Player of the Year Prondzinski lived the dream
It still doesn’t quite register as real to Kaitlyn Prondzinski what she and her Stewartville volleyball team achieved this season.
The Tigers, with the senior outside hitter and fifth-year varsity starter playing a massive role, won it all.
Stewartville’s white-knuckled 20-25, 25-19, 25-16, 23-25, 15-12 championship win over No. 3-ranked North Branch gave the Tigers their first state crown since 2014.
"I replay that match point over and over, and it still feels unreal," Prondzinski said.
That it happened, says fellow Tigers front-row star Erin Lamb, was a direct reflection of the talent, spirit and know-how of Prondzinski, our 2019 Post Bulletin All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year.
"Kaitlyn knew her role on our team and played it so well," said Lamb, a junior middle hitter who like Prondzinski was named first-team All-State this season. "The experience she brought was so great. She always knew what was going on and always had a calmness about her that she brought on the court and off it. Plus, she (left) everything out on the court and didn’t care about her stats. She just wanted our team to win."
Prondzinski has been leaving it all out there since the eighth-grade, when she was already living her dream of playing varsity volleyball for Stewartville and its Hall of Fame Coach John Dzubay.
Prondzinski grew up watching the Tigers, who for years churned out one state tournament team after another under Dzubay.
"Stewartville volleyball is something special," Prondzinski said. "There is so much history there under Dzubay (34 years as head coach, five state titles). It’s just been an honor to be part of that program."
TIME TO WIN BIG
It’s one that was feeling a rare thirst, however, the last few years. Those state trips had dried up, the only member of this year’s Tigers team to have previously reached state Prondzinski, as an eighth-grader.
A very confident eighth-grader, Duzbay might add. He knew he had something special in her way back then. He just wondered if some of his older players were feeling some resentment over her, taken aback by all of her assuredness.
Confusing confidence with arrogance is easy to do.
"I think some of our older players at the time thought, ‘What the heck is with this little eighth-grader?’ " Dzubay said.
What was with her then has remained with her since.
" ‘Prondo’ doesn’t lack for confidence," Dzubay said. "It’s just an attitude that she expects to be good. She had that even as an eighth-grader."
Prondzinski considers it a family trait.
"Where I come from, we’ve always been an outspoken family," she said. "I think I’ve always been a good speaker. And having confidence helps that."
That came in handy all this season, her Tigers riding her words and in-control vibe on a team that was ranked No. 1 in Class AA for all but one week this year. That confidence was especially important down the stretch, with Stewartville being pushed to five sets in its sub-section final with Lake City, but hanging tough in the end. The same thing happened in both the state semifinals and finals, each ultimately 3-2 Tigers wins.
"As one of the older ones on the team, it was important that I never freaked out when matches got tight," Prondzinski said. "There were times when I was nervous, but I always wanted to be as calm and collected as could be. I wanted to be that role model."
Staying calm is easier when possessing with Prondzinski’s physical skills. The 6-feet senior, who will play volleyball at Division I Illinois State next year, combines extreme hitting power with rare jumping ability. The result is often something to behold.
Balls go crashing into opponents or smack the floor so often when Prondzinski hits them that it can be startling. Dzubay says he’s never had a player quite like her. All of that power and leaping ability helped her finish with 303 kills this season, so many of them taking fans out of their seats.
Those numbers would have been even higher had Dzubay not consistently removed his starting lineup once it built a 2-0 sets lead.
" ‘Prondo’s’ attitude is that, ‘I’m going to put this kill down your throat,’ " Dzubay said. "She’s going to have to change that up a little bit when she gets to college. But it’s hard to argue with a girl who wants to hit the heck out of the ball. She wants to annihilate you."
What she wanted more than anything this season was to win and to do it at the highest level.
The was never a bit of ambiguity about that, from the first day of the season to the last.
"None of us cared about any individual stats, we just cared about winning and winning a state championship together," Prondzinski said. "Every game and every practice, that was our goal, to win the state title."
Honor:The 2019 Post Bulletin All-Area Player of the Year.
Statistics:Prondzinski, a 6-feet outside hitter and five-year starter, had 303 kills, a .342 hitting percentage, 220 digs and 19 ace block this season.
Other 'Prondo' notables:Prondzinski was named Class AA first-team All-State. A year ago she was second-team All-State. Prondzinski was also selected to the All-State Tournament Team this year. . .Prondzinski will play volleyball at Division I Illinois State next year.
Volleyball: 2019 Post Bulletin All-Area Team