Wayzata's Jake Strom, right and Steele Kowalczyk shook hands with Minnetonka's Nathan Abzug, right, and Brett Erickson after Wayzata clinched the state tournament. (Kyndell Harkness/Star Tribune)
At a casual glance, the results of Wednesday’s boys’ tennis state tournament team finals look remarkably similar.
Wayzata won its second consecutive Class 2A championship, beating Minnetonka 5-2.
Blake won its second consecutive Class 1A championship, beating Rochester Lourdes 5-2.
Sure, the results were the same. Their respective paths, however, could scarcely be more opposite.
For Wayzata, the 2014 season was filled with uncertainty. The Trojans’ route to the 2013 title was a leisurely, bump-free parkway compared with the overgrown cart path they traveled this year.
They had to replace six graduated starters and spent the better part of the season mixing and matching, hoping to find the right formula.
“We weren’t a great team when we started this season,” Wayzata coach Jeff Prondzinski said. “It’s very fulfilling and humbling because the kids knew where we were. They knew that if they wanted this, there was a lot of work to be done.”
The long winter meant postponed matches, which began to pile up. When, exactly, would that work be done?
“We did a lot of things on our own and on Saturdays to get to this point,” Prondzinski said.
Even Wednesday’s victory over Lake Conference rival Minnetonka at the University of Minnesota’s Baseline Tennis Center didn’t come easily.
Sophomore Nick Beaty, a four-year varsity veteran, got the Trojans off to an unexpectedly strong start, beating defending Class 2A singles champ Joey Richards 6-1, 6-3.
“I just played really well in the first set and kept up the momentum,” Beaty said.
Straight-set victories by Sam Theisen at No. 3 singles and the No. 2 doubles team of Jack Garvey and Joe Haugen gave the Trojans a 3-1 lead, putting them on the cusp of victory.
But Minnetonka was not about to roll over. The Skippers forced a third set at Nos. 2 and 4 singles and No. 1 doubles. A sweep of those three matches would steal the victory.
“It got pretty tense,” Prondzinski said.
Wayzata finally sealed things when Steele Kowalczyk and Jake Strom won an emotional third-set tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles, taking the match 6-0, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), for the crucial fourth team point.
“The momentum kept shifting and trying to keep it all together was pretty exciting,” Strom said. “I didn’t know what the score was in the match, but I had an idea that we had won it when I heard all the cheering.”
Asked to compare the two championships, Beaty said this one carries a little more weight.
“We had to compete more this year,” he said. “We really had to fight, which in some ways makes this one more satisfying. Last year felt great, but this year was something else.”
Coronation in Class 1A
For Blake, the championship was less of a competition than it was a coronation.
The Bears clearly were the class of Class 1A all season. They lost only once all year (to Wayzata) and had dropped just one individual match in the postseason, including a pair of 7-0 victories in the state tournament.
Rochester Lourdes looked to be the Bears’ stiffest test of the tournament, and it was, winning at No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles and extending the No. 3 doubles match to a super-set tiebreaker.
But Blake never was in much trouble, winning three matches quickly and two more shortly thereafter to clinch another team championship at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center.
Being such a large favorite came with its own set of issues, said senior captain Taylor Parr.
“There’s always the expectation to win,” he said. “We don’t talk much about that. We just strive to do the best we’re capable of doing. And when it’s our time to shine at the state tournament, we bring a full effort.”
Junior Charlie Adams tuned up for his shot at repeating as the Class 1A singles champion with an impressive 6-2, 6-1 victory over Lourdes’ David Turlington, the No. 6-ranked singles player in the state.
The Bears also received victories from Ben Ingbar and Jack Barker at singles, and the doubles teams of Owen Rickert and Jack McGrath, and Daniel Riggi and Fawaz Mohiuddin.
Parr suffered a mild upset by losing to Nico Villarraga at No. 2 singles, but the match had long been clinched by that point.
Not that it mattered to him. The consummate leader, Parr spent the better part of the season stressing team success.
“It’s a privilege to play for Blake,” he said. “This means everything to me. As a senior, I just want to end this wonderful experience on a high note. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”