Wayzata boys test the Skippers

Sports Editor

Minnetonka nets Lake tennis title with late surge

Defending state Class AA tennis champion Minnetonka checked off the first item on its list of goals for the 2017 season May 9, when the Skippers used home-court advantage to beat Wayzata 6-1 for the Lake Conference title.

Early in the match, fans speculated that Wayzata would either win 4-3 or lose 4-3, but late rallies in three matches gave the nod to the Skippers.

Wayzata senior Matthew Hagan hits a textbook backhand volley during the Trojans’ 6-1 loss May 9 at Minnetonka. (Sun Sailor staff photo by John Sherman)
Wayzata senior Matthew Hagan hits a textbook backhand volley during the Trojans’ 6-1 loss May 9 at Minnetonka. (Sun Sailor staff photo by John Sherman)

“It sure didn’t feel like a 6-1 match,” said Minnetonka head coach Dave Stearns. “Wayzata is a really good team, and I was very impressed with both their tenacity and their effort. Jeff Prondzinski is a coach I respect very much. I was pleased with our resiliency after I challenged the players to show me the team that won state last year.”

“Minnetonka showed why it’s the defending state champion,” said coach Prondzinski. “It was a good battle, and they ended up winning the key points. Winning comes when you learn how to win.”

Even though the Trojans are young this season, they have posted an impressive 9-5 record in dual matches.

The first singles match was unusual in that each player won a set 6-0. Ben Wheaton of the Skippers had his way with Wayzata ninth-grader Jonathan Nudler in the first set before Nudler dominated the second set. Wheaton regrouped to win the final set 6-2.

“Jonathan is making progress and playing tough against some of the best players in the state,” said Prondzinski. “He loves the game and is very coachable. When he’s hitting good ground strokes, he’s really tough.”

“Ben was able to get Nudler running in the third set, and that was the difference,” Stearns noted.

At second singles, Tonka’s Ahmed Atayev lost the first set to John Foley 6-4. Then Atayev caught fire and won the next two sets, 7-5, 6-3.

Minnetonka’s Matthew Kregness lost to Wayzata’s Jordan Stephenson, 7-6, 6-1 at No. 3 singles.

“Matthew wasn’t feeling well, and I give him credit for having the guts to play,” said Stearns.

Prondzinski praised his Wayzata player: “Jordan played really well, and he’s getting back to what he can do. He showed great hands at the net.”

A pivotal match for Minnetonka was Kevin Thomas’ 6-4, 6-0 win over Jacob Mendel at fourth singles.

“Kevin is very coachable and upbeat,” said Stearns. “He is getting more depth on his shots than he was last year.”

In doubles, the No. 1 Tonka team of brothers Carter and Trevor Smiley beat Matthew Hagan and Nick Goetz, 6-1, 6-1.

Tonka’s No. 2 team of Frank Stich and Jacob Stork also won in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, over Matt Deal and Max Liao. In a long third doubles match, Minnetonka’s Jeff Week and Adam Thompson came from behind to defeat Nick Uphoff and Luc Golin, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4.

“At section time, we want to have our strongest team on the court,” said Stearns, who is looking to complete the puzzle with a competitive third doubles team. He has tried a number of players at that position, and has to make the decision this week.