In his 11 years coaching the Wayzata boys’ tennis team, Jeff Prondzinski rarely has seen anything come easy for the Trojans.
So it’s no surprise that, despite having the deepest, most talented roster he’s ever had — one that many consider the best in Class 2A — the ultra-driven Prondzinski is pushing his players just as hard as he ever has.
Wayzata entered this season finally getting the respect it has long deserved. The Trojans have had back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Class 2A state tournament. With a singles lineup that is among the best in the state complimented by its traditional strength at doubles, Wayzata has occupied the No. 1 spot in the Class 2A state rankings all season.
Such recognition is nice for his players, Prondzinski said, but at this point of the season it’s relatively meaningless.
“In my 11 years here, we’ve never started the season ranked in the top five, but we always seem to finish there,” Prondzinski said. “This team, no doubt, has the most talent we’ve ever had, but we’ve got a long way to go and a lot of work still to do.”
As if to emphasize the point, after beginning the season with eight consecutive victories, Wayzata lost to Class 1A powerhouse Blake in the semifinals of Saturday’s Edina Invitational. The Trojans may be good, but as has always been the case, they’ll have to earn everything they get.
Bring it on, the players say. There is no fear of work in this lineup.
It starts with senior Dustin Britton, who has battled back from an injury to his right shoulder suffered in the summer of 2011 that derailed his junior year. Unable to do much of anything with a tennis racquet, Britton watched helplessly as college recruiters stopped calling and his high school team moved on without its No. 1 singles player.
“It was so hard,” Britton said. “I would do all of the conditioning and then leave. I did everything I could to get back on the court. I served underhanded. I tried to play with my left hand. I just wanted to play tennis.”
Britton’s shoulder is finally healed and he’s back playing No. 1 singles. His return to form is doubly important. He gives Wayzata a strong presence at the top of its lineup; he’s 7-2, with his only losses coming to the two No. 1 -ranked players in Minnesota, Blake’s Charlie Adams (Class 1A) and Edina’s Max Olson (2A). He also allows Prondzinski to drop his other talented singles players down in the lineup, where they have a much better chance of winning.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary is freshman Nick Beaty. A three-year varsity veteran, Beaty has grown six inches since last year and is no longer a precocious mop-top but a formidable foe.
“It helps so much having Dustin back,” Beaty said. “It’s a great confidence-builder.”
The same goes for senior Matt Tropsha at No. 3 singles and sophomore Hank Lee at No. 4. Playing in more comfortable positions, they give Wayzata a chance to sweep the singles in nearly every match.
Considering that it only takes four victories to win a match, coupled with Wayzata’s depth in doubles (which will only improve when senior Jack Graven returns from a bout with mononucleosis), the team’s championship hopes look legitimate.
That, however, is still too far in the future for Pronzindski. Goals are important, but the Trojans have plenty to do to reach them.
“Putting Dustin back at the top makes us pretty strong and with Nick, it’s like having two No. 1 [singles players], but we still have to put in the work,” he said. “We’ve always played our best at the end of the year. We got close last year and it was a fun ride, but we came up a little short. I know these kids aren’t satisfied.”
The Trojans know how good they can be. Three times in April they shoveled courts so they could play outside while other teams were hitting indoors. The feeling is that this is their year and they’re not about to let it skip away.
“I’ve pictured it,” said Tropsha, thinking about a possible state championship. “I can see it in my mind. This is the best team we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’re going to do everything we can to get there.”