Stevens: Lobos' Sapling Already Cutting Down D-I Redwoods
April 21, 2010
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
A lot of weight and a lot of muscle.
If you had to throw a nickname on New Mexico's super-looking prospect from the rolling hills North of San Francisco, you probably would be safe with something like, "Needle," "Pencil," "Bones," "Splinter," or maybe the "San Fran Sapling."
If Dils had his druthers, Berg's nickname down the road might be Sequoiadendron giganteum.
Dils wants his thin freshman to look less like a sapling and more like the Giant Sequoia that sprouts up not too far from Berg's home in Marin County, which is about a Berg backhand North of San Francisco.
A Berg forehand would put you in the Redwoods.
It's easy to see what Dils likes about this Lobo pup and what Dils envisions down the road when Berg puts on a few pounds of Division I bark. You can read "bark" as both bulk and toughness/experience.
Berg already is D-I good. He is undefeated (5-0) in Mountain West Conference play heading into Saturday's match at Air Force. He has won nine of his past 10 singles' matches. He is 8-1 over his past nine doubles matches teaming up with Ben Dunbar.
The 6-foot-3, 145-pound Lobo is on a roll. He has the levers (arms) and the wheels to cover a lot of surface. His length gives him power. And when he turns sideways, his opponent can't see him.
OK, we kid there. But did we mention Berg only carries 145 pounds on that 6-3 frame? "And I think I've gained 10 pounds since I've been here," said Berg.
You can see why Dils might be licking his chops while contemplating throwing a few pork chops lathered in gravy in front of Berg.
Can you imagine this kid at 6-3, 180 pounds? Or maybe 6-4, 190?
That's Berg's plan, too. Call it the "Bigger Berg" plan. "I'll work on that over the summer," he said.
Said Dils: "I've had freshmen who have come in and were already near their potential. Conor isn't anywhere near his. As he adds mass and muscle, he will get better and better."
Berg isn't doing too badly facing Division I competition, but he thinks adding on a few matches at that level is going to improve his game, too.
"I've learned a lot since I've been here," he said. "It took a while to get used to the college level. I was surprised by all the foreign guys who are like 25-year-old sophomores.
"I've been a little surprised I`ve done so well, but in the early matches I lost, I was pretty much there, just a few points away (from winning). I`ve learned how to win games by learning how to win the one or two important points you hit during stretches of a match. That has helped with my confidence."
Berg's journey to New Mexico really began with Lobo assistant Bart Scott returning to his UNM roots. Scott, an ex-Lobo, was an associate head coach at Oregon when he first spotted Berg. Berg was contemplating a career at Oregon or maybe UC Santa Barbara.
Then Scott got the job at UNM and gave Berg a call. "I probably wouldn't have come here because I really had no idea about New Mexico. I knew nothing about the state other than it existed," said Berg.
"Bart talked me into taking a visit. I liked the coaches and I could tell the players were a bunch of really good guys."
Dils says much of Berg's success in his first year of major-college tennis is that he hits the shots he can hit and doesn't try for too many hero shots. "He doesn't go for the crazy shots," said Dils. "He's a smart player and he plays the correct shot most of the time.
"Tennis is always hitting winners. Often it's about getting the other guy to miss before you do. Conor understands that. Rarely, will he make a poor choice in shots. If anything, we are pushing to make him more aggressive."
Said Scott: "Getting him up to full speed in anything was difficult at first because he has that laid-back, surfer-dude, Northern California attitude."
Berg grew up playing most sports, but focused on tennis around the age of 12. He did not hang up his surfboard or his snowboard. His draw toward tennis was a natural one since his mother, Lisa Berg, played at Oklahoma State and is still a teaching pro.
Berg, who lost only one match in four years of high school tennis, said one of his goals in 2010 is to register a 20-win season. "It would be pretty cool to get a 20-win season," said Berg.
At 19-10, he might have to bump that bar a bit higher. In the off-season, he needs to bump the dinner plate a little higher. The San Fran Sapling needs to become a Sophomore Sequoia.
He can add the "Giant" to his nickname his junior year.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org