GOLD RIVER, Calif. — For the first time in the University of Montana’s history, the Grizzlies men’s tennis team has captured a Big Sky Conference championship.
The No. 2 Griz dominated the previously unbeaten Weber State Wildcats 4-0 on Sunday afternoon. Senior Ethan Vaughn, who was victorious at No. 5 singles, said it’s an accomplishment that’s been in the works for many years.
“I’m back and forth between ovation and tears,” Vaughn said. “All this hard work, and how many times we’ve come so close and lost — this was the absolute perfect match. I’ve dreamt about this moment 100 times, and it wasn’t even this good in my dreams.”
Head coach Kris Nord, in his 32nd year coaching at UM, says it’s hard to explain the emotions that the win has inspired.
“It’s like a dream right now, I’m so pumped for these guys,” Nord said. “Words won’t express my feelings. We played so well today, these guys deserved it.”
Heading into the match against the Wildcats (10-0 BSC), both Nord and assistant coach Jason Brown stressed how important winning the doubles point would be, and the Griz did not disappoint.
To start off, senior Mikolaj Caruk and sophomore Tomasz Soltyka won 8-5 at No. 2 doubles over Todd Fought and Jakub Gewert — the duo that beat them three weeks ago.
“That was the highlight of my day,” Nord said. “I sat on their court, and they played absolutely flawless. They took care of business and set the tone for the whole match.”
Ethan Vaughn and sophomore Semion Branzburg were in a battle at No. 1, down 7-6, about to enter a tiebreaker, when seniors Andrew Warren and Eric Braun clinched the doubles point with a 8-6 decision at No. 3.
“The doubles point was huge,” Nord said. “We had to have it, and we got it. It was a complete team effort, it was just so cool.”
The Griz used the momentum from doubles to steamroll into singles, as UM netters won the first set in every match, with the exception of No. 1 singles, which was tied in the first set 6-6 when the duel ended.
Vaughn finished his match first, defeating Landon Barlow 6-2, 6-4, giving his team the 2-0 advantage.
“I knew I had to play well against him, he’s a crafty player,” Vaughn said. “I went up in the first, and fought in the second set. I knew my match was going to be crucial, so I just wanted to get my match done and get the team up 2-0.”
Soltyka finished his match next at No. 4, defeating Caio Poitena 6-2, 6-2. Shortly after, Semion Branzburg avenged his previous loss to Oliver Good, winning in straight sets at No. 3 singles.
The Griz have earned the right to keep playing, and will do so on a roll, as UM has won seven of its last eight matches. Nord’s team gets the Big Sky’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, and will find out who and where they play during the selection show, which will be streamed on NCAA.com Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. The first-round matches will be played Friday or Saturday, May 9 or 10.
“It means everything to me, but these guys are on cloud nine,” Nord said. “We have hurdles in front of us to practice and travel, and these guys overcome those hurdles, and I’m so proud of them. I don’t know what to say. It’s just awesome.”
Big Sky Championship match
Montana 4, Weber State 0
April 27, 2014 at Gold River, Calif.
No. 1 Semion Branzburg/Ethan Vaughn (UM) vs. Oliver Good/Sanjay Goswami (WSU) 6-7 unfinished
No. 2 Mikolaj Caruk/Tomasz Soltyka (UM) def.Jakub Gewert/Todd Fought (WSU) 8-5
No. 3 Andrew Warren/Ethan Vaughn (UM) (8-6) def. Caio Poitena/Landon Barlow (WSU) 8-6
No. 1 Jakub Gewert (WSU) vs. Mikolaj Caruk (UM) 6-6 unfinished
No. 2 Andrew Warren (UM) vs. Todd Fought (WSU) 6-4, 5-6 unfinished
No. 3 Semion Branzburg (UM) def. Oliver Good (WSU) 6-4, 6-4
No. 4 Tomasz Soltyka (UM) def. Caio Poitena (WSU) 6-2, 6-2
No. 5 Ethan Vaughn (UM) def. Landon Barlow (WSU) 6-2, 6-4
No. 6 Sanjay Goswami (WSU) vs. Peter Mimnagh-Fleming (UM) 7-6 (7-4), 2-6, 1-0 unfinished
— Montana Sports Information