Unique Path Series—ALhouni Brothers: From Tripoli To Saint Peter

Posted on February 24th, 2015 by

Political unrest in their home country instigated Motasem and Mohaned ALhouni’s move to the United States, providing a safe and promising opportunity for the young men to continue their education and tennis careers.

Saint Peter, Minn.—As a period of political protests and violence in Libya heightened in frequency and culminated in a revolution in 2011, so began the ALhouni brothers’ journey to the United States of America and Gustavus Adolphus College.

Before the Libyan civil conflict began, Motasem and Mohaned ALhouni attended a K-12 international school, in which the predominantly Irish teachers taught the majority of the subjects in English. Being that only one of their classes was instructed in Arabic, the ALhouni’s first language, Motasem and Mohaned had plenty of opportunities to practice English starting at a young age.

Motasem (left) and Mohaned (right) who had quite the successful youth tennis career pictured with their father, Khaled.

Pictured with their father, Khaled, Motasem (left) and Mohaned (right) ALhouni had quite successful youth tennis careers in their home country of Tripoli, Libya.

Outside of school, the brothers spent much of their spare time becoming distinguished tennis players, excelling in the youth tennis sphere at both the national and international levels. Motasem was a member of the Libyan National Tennis Team in 2010, represented Libya in the 2009 Mediterranean Olympics in Italy, and traveled around northern Africa to play in International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments as a teenager. Mohaned also played in ITF tournaments, which led to him being ranked as one of the top five players in Africa in the Under 16 category. In addition, Mohaned won 15 African championships in the Under 14 and Under 16 groups combined, and represented Libya in the 2013 Mediterranean Olympics in Turkey.

Things began to change for the ALhouni family in 2010 as the Libyan nation grew increasingly restless over political issues connected to the dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi. With intensified resistance to Gaddafi and the Arab Socialist Party’s 43-year reign, a national curfew was put into place that required everyone to be off the streets by 8 p.m. This resulted in citizens using caution when traveling and reduced the amount of time spent outside of the house.

“You could hear gun shots in the distance all the time,” said Mohaned. “Even after my family returned to Libya after the revolution, my little brother would Skype me, and he’d go over to the window and you could hear some sounds. After a while we kind of got used to what was going on. Although we didn’t go out much, when we did we knew where we were going and just stuck to our own business and didn’t talk to anyone. No one would just travel around without a purpose.”

To ensure the safety of their family, the ALhounis relocated to Cairo, Egypt in August of 2010. Once in Cairo, Motasem and Mohaned had little to do because they were not taking language classes like their two younger siblings, Moad and Zainab. This spurred the ALhouni parents, Eenam and Khaled, to begin contemplating other options for their two eldest boys. Although the possibility of Motasem attending the American University of Cairo was discussed, Motasem and his parents resolved that it would be best for him to attend a college in the United States.

The ALhouni family (from left)--Zainab, Khaled, Enaam, Moab, Motasem, and Mohaned.

The ALhouni family (from left)–Zainab, Khaled, Enaam, Moab, Motasem, and Mohaned.

“We had a house in Egypt, and we stayed there three months,” said Motasem. “I wasn’t doing much because I wasn’t in school. My parents and I had talked about me going to the American University in Cairo, but we decided that it would be better for me to study in the United States. Plus, I had always wanted to come to the U.S. for school and tennis.”

Conveniently, the ALhounis had a cousin, Adel ALhouni, living in Minnesota. Adel encouraged Motasem to come to the United States for his post-secondary education because he could help Motasem with the process since he had been living in the United States for over 20 years. Arrangements were made so that Motasem could join Adel in Minneapolis and attend a college in the United States for the 2011 fall semester.

Upon arriving in Minnesota in August of 2011, Motasem enrolled in Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota while he searched for other post-secondary education opportunities. Recognizing that his cousin had potential to play tennis at the collegiate level, Adel went to work contacting various college tennis programs and coaches, inquiring as to whether they would be interested in having Motasem on their team. One of the calls made was to Tommy Valentini, the head coach of the Gustavus men’s tennis team.

“I got accepted to Normandale Community College, which is how I got my student visa,” said Motasem. “My cousin knew some people that knew Tommy, and so he got Tommy’s information and left him a voicemail. When Tommy called back, Adel explained my situation, and Tommy agreed to set up a visit and to help me with the application process if I liked Gustavus.”

Motasem toured Gustavus two weeks before the 2011-2012 academic year was to begin. After visiting the campus, Motasem decided that attending the Division-III school would be a good opportunity.  With that, Motasem withdrew from Normandale Community College and committed to attending and playing tennis at Gustavus.

Andrea, Jerry, Joe, and Rudy Lipovetz opened their home to the Mohaned (and Motasem during holidays) beginning in 2011.

Andrea, Jerry, Joe, and Rudy Lipovetz opened their home to the Mohaned (and Motasem during holidays and breaks) beginning in 2011.

As Motasem discovered Gustavus, the Alhouni’s father, Khaled, contacted Adel again, this time asking for assistance in finding a high school and host family for Mohaned since he had been unable to return to school in Libya. After more research and phone calls, Adel found a place for his cousin at Duluth-Marshall High School. The school administration notified the Duluth-Marshall community of the opportunity to host Mohaned, to which Andrea, Jerry, Joe, and Rudy Lipovetz responded and welcomed the Libyan native into their home.

“My dad and mom were mostly concerned about us because Mota had graduated and I was almost done with school so we had nothing to do during the day,” Mohaned said. “We also have a younger sister and brother, but my parents weren’t as concerned about them because they were still younger and were attending language classes in Cairo. They ended up going back home a month after I left and attended the same school that we went to in Tripoli after things got safe again.”

Due to a Minnesota State High School rule that prohibits international players from competing at the varsity level if they are not associated with a foreign exchange program, Mohaned was unable to compete on the Duluth-Marshall tennis team. However, he kept up his game by practicing and hitting with the varsity squad whenever he could.

Recognizing that there would be more opportunities and better competition in tennis for both the Lipovetz boys and Mohaned in the Twin Cities area, the Lipovetz family decided to sell their home in Duluth after Mohaned’s first year at school in Minnesota. Starting at West Lutheran High School in Plymouth, Minnesota in 2012, Mohaned continued his high school career attending school in the Twin Cities, playing in USTA tournaments around the area, and both practicing with and helping to coach his high school team.


Motasem took the titles of both the singles and doubles brackets in the 2014 USTA/ITA National Midwest Regional Tournament, allowing him to advance to the USTA/ITA National Small College Championships in Sumter, South Carolina as both a singles and doubles participant.

“I did one year at Duluth-Marshall,” said Mohaned. “That was my sophomore year. We transferred after that because my host brothers also played tennis, and my host family thought that tennis wasn’t that big of a sport at Duluth-Marshall…it was all hockey. So, we moved to Golden Valley because they [Jerry and Andrea Lipovetz] recognized that there would be more competition for all three of us.”

During his senior year of high school, Mohaned seriously considered both the University of Minnesota and Gustavus as post-secondary education options. However, the appeal of playing tennis for a nationally recognized, high-caliber Division-III school with his brother was too tempting to pass up. Following his graduation from West Lutheran High School in the spring of 2014, Mohaned joined Motasem at Gustavus.

Throughout his time with the Gustavus men’s tennis team, Motasem has had a notable Division-III tennis career. As a freshman, Motasem started his collegiate experience on a high note by winning the 2011 Midwest Regional Tournament. Over the past two years, he has continued to be a force in the lineup, taking second place in doubles at the 2013 USTA/ITA Midwest Regional alongside doubles partner, Mya Smith-Dennis. Motasem has also earned All-American honors twice, and is currently nationally ranked No. 8 in singles and No. 6 in doubles.


Mohaned has had a strong start to his collegiate tennis career, taking second place at the 2014 USTA/ITA Midwest Regional after falling to his brother 7-5, 6-4 in the final.

Both ALhounis are off to a great start for the 2014-2015 season. The duo started with a doubles championship 2014 USTA/ITA National Summer Championships at the University of Minnesota. In the fall of 2014, the brothers created an all-ALhouni final by winning their respective brackets and meeting in the singles championship match of the 2014 USTA/ITA National Midwest Regional Tournament. Motasem eventually defeated Mohaned 7-5, 6-4.  Motasem also won the doubles championship in the same tournament with partner Andres Saenz, allowing him to advance to the USTA/ITA National Small College Championships in Sumter, South Carolina as both a singles and doubles participant.

While both Motasem and Mohaned are thankful for the opportunity to come to the United States, they do note that it is hard to be far away from their family, and appreciate the few chances that they have had to spend with them since their arrival in Minnesota in 2011.

“One of the hardest things about coming to the U.S. was missing my parents…my family in general… and my friends too,” said Mohaned. “I got homesick a lot the first month. I would Skype with my family every single day at first. As Mota and I stayed longer we adapted to the situation more and got used to the separation from our family.”

“I’ve been here for four years, and I’ve only been home once,” Motasem said. “The last time I visited home was during the summer of 2012. It was nice because my parents were here last summer though.”


While both Motasem and Mohaned are thankful for the opportunity to come to the United States, they do note that it is hard to be far away from their family.

Although the ALhouni brothers miss their family, they hope to find careers in the United States and remain in the country long term. With a major in International Management, Motasem would like to pursue a career in marketing or development management. Mohaned is interested in the same fields as his brother, and would like to pursue a degree in Management or International Management.

“I’m planning on staying here after I graduate,” said Motasem. “Hopefully I’ll find a job. I would really like to move to California since a lot of my friends are out there, and I think there would be good work opportunities there too. Also, four years here in the cold is enough. If I get a job here in Minnesota I’d stay, but I’d really like to move to California and work.”

“Even though I have awhile before I graduate, I think I would like to stay here,” Mohaned said. “I would like to stay here and see if I can find a job, or maybe if I do well in tennis, keep playing tennis even after I graduate.”



  1. Abdalla Elyazgi says:

    Congratulations, guys keep up the good work

    Take care

  2. Amy Braun Steinhauser says:

    There is no better place to play college tennis than Gustavus! The legacy of Steve Wilkinson shines on through Neal Hagberg, Tommy Valentini, Dan McLaughlin and all the other amazing leaders and coaches there.

  3. Enaam almaouhob says:

    congratulation and god bless u

  4. khaled alhouni says:

    mashaallah ….. GOD BLESS YOU MY SONS … KEEP UP

  5. Jon Doe says:

    Shout out to the Lipovetz family!
    They spent a lot of time and money and uprooted there household.
    Good luck guys!