July 3, 2012
Three months after his program won its first Big Sky Conference regular-season championship, Griz men's tennis coach Kris Nord has taken a big step toward putting together another team that could challenge to repeat the feat next spring.
Nord recently signed Semion Branzburg, one of Israel's top prep players, to a National Letter of Intent.
"I know a contact coach of Semion's, and we talked extensively about him," Nord, the 2012 Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year, said. "I loved everything I heard.
"He's got a good all-around game. He does not have a weakness, and that's what attracted me the most.
"He's willing to stay back on the baseline and play, he's willing to come to the net, and he's a good doubles player. It's really huge for us to get him."
Branzburg, of Ashdod, Israel, has been ranked in the top three in his age group at the national level since the age of 10. He was his country's top-ranked 18-year-old after winning the doubles title at the Israeli age-group championships and finishing runner-up in singles.
He also won age-group tournaments in Europe as both a 14- and 16-year-old and advanced to the round of 64 at the Junior Orange Bowl, a tournament which Nord says is on par with the junior tournaments at both the French Open and Wimbledon, as a 12-year-old.
"I look forward to coming to Montana," Branzburg wrote from Israel this week. "I have heard a lot of good things about the players and the program and the university, and I understand that Missoula is a lovely place to be."
Branzburg, who was born in Donetsk, Ukraine, developed his game while training at different Israel Tennis Center sites. He spent three years at both ITC-Ashkelon and ITC-Tel Aviv, then four additional years at ITC-Ramat Hasharon while attending Rothberg High School.
Branzburg is Nord's first addition to a squad that lost six players off last year's team that went 8-0 in league play and advanced to the championship match of the Big Sky Conference tournament.
Though six were lost, only two were players who spent time in the singles lineup last spring. Carl Kuschke, who played No. 1 singles, and Andreas Luczak, who played No. 6, are gone, but the players who saw action at Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5 are back.
Ben DeMarois, who went 11-10 playing mainly No. 3 doubles with Kuschke, will also need to be replaced.
Junior-to-be Mikolaj Caruk, who went 8-0 in league matches last spring at No. 2 singles and earned first-team All-Big Sky Conference honors, returns as the likely candidate to move into Kuschke's No. 1 singles spot.
Facey and Vaughn were both 8-0 in Big Sky singles matches and both joined Caruk as members of the All-Big Sky Conference first team.
Caruk and Warren went 14-4 last spring at No. 1 doubles, Facey and Vaughn 10-6 at No. 2.
"Losing Carl, we really need somebody to step up and play in the top third of the lineup right away as a freshman, and I felt like Semion fit the bill," Nord said.
"There will be a little adjustment for him coming in, but I've had other international kids come in and adjust quickly. I'm sure Semion will as well.
"You never know until you get them on campus and hitting with the other kids where they are going to fit in, but I'm really hoping he's top three. That would be a great start for him as a freshman, and that's what we'll need if we're going to keep improving."
The addition of Branzburg and the return of squad members Eric Braun and Zach Drost, both of whom will be juniors in the fall, gives Nord a roster of seven. He expects to have a roster of eight by the start of the fall semester and possibly nine.
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