“Number one” would have a nice ring to it, coach PJ Priest acknowledged. It would be uncharted territory for the Prior Lake girls’ tennis program.
The Lakers never have risen that high in the Class 2A rankings, and they’ve never won a state championship.
Then again, Priest said he would not be surprised by anything his 2015 group of Lakers accomplished this fall.
“This is a special group,” the coach said. “They believe in themselves and have some high goals for this season. They think they can get it done.”
Here’s what they’ve been able to do already:
During a 12-1 start to the year (as of Tuesday’s victory over Lakeville North), Prior Lake made quick work of No. 5 Eagan, winning 5-2 on Sept. 15. The Lakers swept all four singles matches in a 5-2 drubbing of girls’ tennis giant Edina on Sept. 9. The only blemish came in a season-opening loss to now top-ranked Mahtomedi — a 4-3 defeat in which injuries left the Lakers without their No. 4 singles player and half its No. 2 doubles pair.
Prior Lake is now No. 2 in the latest state coaches’ poll. The Lakers like the way they’re trending as the season hits the home stretch.
“We have so many strong players now,” said junior Savanna Crowell, Prior Lake’s top singles player and the second-ranked individual in Class 2A. “Just knowing the potential we have for the season makes it a lot of fun and makes us want it even more.”
Beat the best to be the best
The victory over the 17-time state-champion Hornets is clearly the highlight to the Lakers’ season thus far, Priest said. It was a statement win — not necessarily to point to the team’s greatness, the coach said, but to allow his team to believe it can achieve the goal it set out before the season.
That goal is to win a state title.
Prior Lake finished second last season to Edina, losing 6-1 in the final. Still, it was the highest finish the Lakers had ever achieved, and they returned nearly every player from that team.
Beyond Crowell, the team is stacked at singles with senior co-captains Chloe Hall and Grayce Petersen, and sophomore Taylor Jackson. Priest said all three are more than talented enough to play in the No. 2 role.
That depth showed in the Edina win.
“Every year we’ve been progressing and doing better at state and overall,” Crowell said. “This year, we knew Edina wasn’t maybe as strong as some years and that we were even stronger [than last year]. We knew we had a chance to beat them. Still, doing it felt pretty awesome. They’ve always been the best, and we have to be able to beat them if we want to get to that spot.”
Priest said he isn’t sure how his team handled the pressure of the state tournament a year ago. He wasn’t there. This is his first year with the girls’ program after serving as the longtime coach of the Prior Lake boys’ program.
“It’s been great to get to be able to be a part of this,” he said. “The amount of talent on this team — they practice hard, compete hard — and, obviously, the success they’ve had has given them even more confidence.”
The Lakers started the year dreaming of that No. 1 spot, Crowell said, but now they can actually see it becoming a reality.
“It definitely feels real now,” she said. “We have a long way to go, and there are a lot of good teams, but we feel we’re right there with anyone now.”