Pine Island-Stewartville Volleyball

Stewartville’s Kaitlyn Prondzinski, left, so often leaves defenders helpess with her high-leaping and forceful kills. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Nobody on Stewartville’s No. 1 ranked volleyball team makes a ruckus better than Kaitlyn Prondzinski.

In fact, in all of Hall of Fame coach John Dzubay’s years directing the Tigers, there has never been an attention getter quite like the powerful and high-leaping 6-feet Prondzinski.

What the senior outside hitter does is the equivalent of a basketball player taking off just inside the free throw line and hammering home a soaring dunk. Or a baseball hitter launching a ball into the upper deck.

 

Prondzinski, an All-State selection last year, raises the hair on onlookers’ necks by blasting kills harder than Dzubay has ever had a player do it. And remember, he coached the Tapp sisters (twins Hannah and Paige), front-line players who went on to have All-Big Ten careers at the University of Minnesota.

“Last year, she (spiked) the ball and it hit a girl so hard she almost lost her breath,” Dzubay said. “The ball hit her in the chest or the head. It’s scary sometimes watching her in practice because there is zero time to react to her hits, they are coming so hard.”

Prondzinski likes the points generated from those explosive kills. But she appreciates just as much what it does to the game, putting the opposition on its heels and rallying her own team.

The latter comes from knowing that she didn’t get that kill by herself — it was a team thing. Kills always are.

“When you really connect, it’s such a good feeling,” Prondzinski said. “When you connect with your setter, you’re sharing that kill. And it takes more than that. It takes a pass, a set and then the hit. Everyone gets excited. It changes the momentum of the game and your teammates feed off of it.”

When Prondzinski was in her early grade-school years, it looked as if the athletic thrills she’d be getting and giving would come in basketball. That was her sport. College basketball aspirations came at an early age for her, and they seemed possible judging from all the early attention she was garnering in the sport 

But then, starting in fifth grade, everything changed. Prondzinski was introduced to volleyball for the first time — a much later start than many players get at volleyball-centric Stewartville — and it was love at first sight.

“I went to one of Dzubay’s camps and right there I fell in love with it,” Prondzinski said. “Part of it was that the Tapp sisters were playing (at Stewartville) at the time, and I wanted to be just like them. I idolized them. From then on, I wanted to play college volleyball.”

She didn’t give up entirely on basketball until her freshman year, even making the Stewartville basketball varsity as an eighth-grader. But from her freshman year on, she became a volleyball-only girl, taking the sport on year round.

Prondzinski wondered at times if she was doing the right thing. But she never allowed herself to turn back. And four years later, she has little regret.

“It was tough at times, but it was never too much volleyball for me,” said Prondzinski, who’s played for an elite southern Minnesota club team during the high school off-seasons.  “I love the sport of volleyball, and I wanted to put all of my energy and efforts into it.”

Her talent, efforts and energy drew quick attention from college scouts. Prondzinski’s freshman year, her second season as a Stewartville volleyball starter, Division I school Illinois State took notice of her. The Illinois State recruiter was in Minnesota taking a look at Rochester Century player Nicole Lund when they also took note of the high-leaping and hard-hitting Prondzinski, the two playing on the same club team. One year later, Prondzinski verbally committed to the Redbirds, where she will join Lund as a player next year.

Prondziski can’t wait to get going on college volleyball. But what is on her mind now is having a big ending with her Class AA No. 1-ranked Stewartville team. Prondzinski is the only present Tigers player who has participated in the state volleyball tournament, having done it as an eighth-grader.

Now, she is hoping to introduce the rest of her teammates to it. On a team brimming with veteran players and lots of talent, she likes their chances. The Tigers boast four four-year starters and one who’s started for five years — Prondzinski.

The Section 1AA state-qualifying tournament begins for them Thursday.

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