Matt Pronesti said he's embraced the lessons on resiliency that he learned while attending Advantage Tennis Academy in Irvine, Calif., last year.
"When you are down, I definitely learned to have a better will to fight instead of giving up," the South Medford senior said.
This season, however, the undefeated Pronesti has had little need to call upon those teachings.
He's been putting on demonstrations of dominance all spring long.
Pronesti, last year's Class 6A state runner-up, improved to 16-0 and won the seven-team Southwest Conference district tournament title on Saturday, breezing past South Eugene's John Jimenez, 6-0, 6-1 in the championship at North Medford High.
The 18-year-old Pronesti was equally fierce in the semifinals, knocking down Grants Pass' Robby Hobbs 6-1, 6-1.
With the state tournament set to begin on Thursday, Pronesti couldn't be playing any better, South Medford head coach Hal Borg said.
In particular, the top-seeded Pronesti's first serve has been overwhelmingly effective.
"His pace is really at a high level right now," Borg said of Pronesti. "He can literally blow people off the court with his first serve. But if you are not getting it in play it doesn't do you any good. So he did a nice job of moving his serve around and keeping it in around 60 percent (against Jimenez). When you are serving that hard at that percentage, you are going to hold most of the time."
Pronesti, who has signed to play at NCAA Division II Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., further developed his skills last year after his family moved to Mission Viejo, Calif. Pronesti lived there from July to January and made the daily drive to Irvine, where he attended the academy.
He fine-tuned his mental approach — "I don't blow up as easy," he said — and added to his arsenal while imbibing advice from coaches from as far away as Egypt and Brazil.
Jimenez, who was forced to play defensively as he adjusted to Pronesti's power, entered Saturday's final having lost just two matches this year: one to Sunset's Joe Remington (who pushed Pronesti to far and away his closest match of the year, a 7-6, 7-6 marathon) and one to Sprague's Scott Wheeler.
The exchange student from Oruro, Bolivia, cobbled together several short runs during the match, but they were rarely strong enough to threaten Pronesti.
Jimenez, seeded second, earned the title shot by beating teammate Nevin Taylor, 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals.
"(Pronesti) is pretty tough," Jimenez said. "He's strong. He plays hard. He must be practicing pretty much every day."
Pronesti set the tone early, unloading deep, heavy forehands, jarring backhands, a few unexpected drop shots and, of course, that vicious serve.
"When that goes in I rarely ever lose," Pronesti said of his serve. "I get a lot of free points off that thing and when it's working it really helps because I don't have to work as hard."
Now, Pronesti's focus has shifted to state, which will take place at Portland Tennis Center and Tualatin Hills Tennis Center Thursday through Saturday.
"I'm feeling pretty good about this," Pronesti said. "Of course I'm gonna take this next week and work as hard as I can to work out some kinks that I saw, go into state and hope to win it."
South Eugene won the team title with 34 points, with South Medford taking second (32) and Roseburg third (29). Grants Pass was fourth (17), Sheldon fifth (13), North Medford sixth (10) and Thurston seventh (5).
In doubles play, Roseburg's top-seeded pairing of Sam Stadter and C.J. Ball defeated South Eugene's Jake Russin and Josh Slason, 6-0, 6-2 in the championship. In the semifinals, Stadter and Ball downed South Medford's third-seeded combination of Jack Delaney and Marius Strack, 6-4, 6-2. The Panther combination went on to take third place.
In the other doubles semi, Russin and Slason topped Roseburg's Nate Hansen and Nick Foley, 6-2, 6-4.
In the consolation singles championship, Roseburg's Zach Carter beat Sheldon's Isaac Klump, 7-5, 6-2. In the consolation doubles championship, Sheldon's Login Ellison and Read Wagar beat Roseburg's Trenton Marlar and Christian Wilson, 6-2, 6-3.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com