The transformation from happy-go-lucky moptop to tennis state champion, four years in the making, is complete.
Wayzata's Nick Beaty, a once-pint-size seventh-grade wunderkind who smiled and laughed and played tennis and didn't think much about it, outlasted Forest Lake's Toby Boyer in three sets — 7-6, 4-6, 6-2 — on Friday to win the Class 2A boys' tennis singles championship.
In the three years since he made his first state tournament appearance, Beaty matured into a crafty, 6-foot lefthander with a remarkable ability to pick himself up and strike back when things look bleak. He hasn't completely shed his hazy-headed ways as much as he has found a way to use them to his advantage.
"Sometimes, he doesn't even know what the score of the match is," coach Jeff Prondzinski said. "He used to get by on talent alone, but he deserves all the credit in the world for figuring out how to focus when he needs to play at a high level."
That Beaty, a sophomore, made the singles field at all is a testament to his ability to leave the negative in the past. He didn't win the Section 6 tournament and was forced to play three matches in one day against high-level opponents to qualify as the runner-up. That experience, he said, set the stage for a memorable state tournament.
"It forced me to focus," Beaty said. "I kind of slumped right away after I lost that match, but I found a way to put it behind me and grind and fight."
Prondzinski agreed that Beaty's game jumped several notches after the section tournament. "We sat down and had a talk about controlling what he could control and playing every point, and he just took it from there," Prondzinski said.
Once Beaty reached the University of Minnesota's Baseline Tennis Center, he had become not just a good player, but a potentially great one.
He won three matches at No. 1 singles in the Trojans' march to the Class 2A team championship and took that momentum into the individual tournament. He defeated 2013 champion Joey Richards in the first round and Maple Grove star Zach Adkins in the quarterfinals. On Friday morning, he defeated Elk River's Josh Gearou in the semifinals, setting up the finals match against Boyer.
The younger brother of four-time state champion Dusty Boyer, Toby Boyer is regarded as one of the state's most gifted players, with a sonic-boom serve and a now-you-see it, now-you-don't forehand.
Boyer is also one of the few elite-level high school players who doesn't play year-round tennis. He focuses on basketball in the winter, which may have factored in his loss. Time and time again, Boyer would draw oohs and aahs with a stunning shot, only to follow it up with an unforced error.
"Toby's a great player and he can make incredible shots, but he can also be a little streaky," Beaty said. "He's so good that I had to rely on that and stay consistent and persistent."
For Boyer, it was another disappointing three-set loss in the finals. He lost to Richards in 2013. "It makes me angry, but I'll get over it," Boyer said. "This is the type of thing that lasts with you. He just played really well, the best he's ever played."
"Have I ever played better?" Beaty asked. "No. Probably not. Especially the last match. I played really incredibly. There's nothing like the state tournament, with all the people supporting you. … It's just great."
In doubles, Maple Grove's Charlie Adkins and Rory Calabria defeated Anthony Rose and Carter Mason of Eden Prairie 6-3, 6-1, to win the school's first tennis state championship.