Meet Tony and Jenessa Trudnowski

the Trudnowski family

Recently we had the chance to catch up with two members of our Oredigger family, Tony and Jenessa Trudnowski who met while going to school and playing for Montana Technological University.

Tony, from Butte, was a standout student-athlete for the Orediggers and graduated from Montana Tech in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in General Engineering with a Mechanical option.

Jenessa Todd,  or "J. Todd", as she was referred to by friends and teammates, is part of a long history of basketball greats from Denton, MT, and was an all-conference performer for the Orediggers. Jenessa graduated in 2010 with her bachelor's degree in Nursing from Montana Tech.

During their time at Montana Technological University, both Tony and Jenessa embodied the definition of determined doers. They first and foremost were committed to their education, were the hardest workers on their teams, always put their team first, and went out of their way to put a smile on a young fan's face. Tony and Jenessa understand know what it means to be a part of something bigger than themselves.   

After a few years out of Montana, Tony and Jenessa made their way back home. They are tackling all that life brings and now have their own starting five: Brynlee, Paige, Colter, Bridget, and Tirzah.

Tony is also following his passion to coach basketball. He carries a gene that has been passed down from his grandfather Jim and father Dan. Jim coached basketball at Carroll from the '60s to the early '80s. Dan Trudnowski was an all-state hooper at Helena Capital and played for the Digger championship teams in the early '80s. Hoops run deep in the Trudnowski and Todd families.  

Currently, Tony is passing that passion on to the Locomotives at Laurel High School. Tony just finished his first year as head coach for the Locomotives adding new hardware to the Laurel trophy case with a second-place finish at the divisional basketball tourney and a third-place finish at the state tourney. The Locomotives lost in a double-overtime thriller to Dillon in the semi-finals, barely keeping the first-year coach from playing for the championship in his first season.  

We had the chance to visit with Tony and Jenessa to get their thoughts on hoops and family. 

There are strong basketball coaching genes in the Todd and Trudnowski families. Can you describe what basketball and family mean in your lives?

Todd Trudnowski playing for TechTony: I grew up in a loving family with great parents who encouraged my siblings and me to work hard at whatever we choose to pursue. However, being a skinny kid exposed to basketball at an early age (I used to attend Tech games as a kid in the 90s), I quickly chose basketball as my primary pursuit. Basketball has helped create some awesome relationships (including meeting Jenessa when shooting around!) and experiences.

Jenessa: Basketball has been a big part of my life since the 5th grade. My dad coached the high school girls, and my sister and I were managers. Basketball kept me focused in high school. I attended Montana Tech on a full basketball scholarship and graduated with a degree in nursing. I met Tony while playing basketball at Tech. Both of our families attended Tech games. Recently, it has been so fun watching Tony coach and seeing our kids get excited about basketball.

My sister Breanna Vaskey and dad Glenn Todd coached the Denton-Stanford-Geyser girls' basketball team for the past few seasons. They resigned when Breanna and her husband Adam found out they were having twin boys. Being an Aunt is so much fun!

As student-athletes, you were both the epitome of what it meant to be Orediggers – Smart, dedicated leaders that believed they were a part of something bigger than themselves. How have those characteristics help define your current success?

Tony: I'm not so sure about the "smart" part. I once broke a bone in my hand, punching a bleacher. I believe my experience as an Oredigger – academic, athletic, and social – helped me understand even what it means to be dedicated. One thing I tell my players at Laurel is too many people think dedication is a short-term endeavor. Being dedicated often comes down to consistency and discipline over a timeframe of years. When doing so, you SLOWLY make big improvements.

Jenessa: Remembering that life is hard sometimes, but don't throw in the towel. Raising five kids is wonderful and exhausting. Marriage is wonderful and hard. Marriage is worth it, and raising kids is worth it. I remind myself that God's mercies are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness. I am grateful to be Tony's wife and the mother to five awesome kids.

Now, you guys have your own starting five. You are very busy with family, work, and hoops. How do you manage to pull all that off? 

Jenessa Trudnowski playing for TechTony: Jenessa is amazing! This is a tough question because sometimes we feel like we're barely hanging on, and I don't know how she does everything. I think it is helpful because we work hard to hold onto some Sunday family time as much as possible.

Jenessa: During basketball season, it is hard sometimes. On weeknights, I'm on single-parent duty. On Sundays, we go to church together and enjoy a family day together.

What drives you both?

Tony: Not sure. When it comes to basketball, I think I'm backward. I have to concisely work at NOT spending too much time and effort on a silly game. Our faith plays a big role in our daily lives and motivations. We believe God has a purpose for us and that it's important to glorify Him in our jobs, in our marriage, and in our interaction with others.

Jenessa: Raising our kids in a loving home. Praying that they love and obey Jesus.

I believe it is fair to say you both were and still are "gym rats.". In thinking back to your days in the gym, what are your best memories and lessons you learned?

Tony: Shooting and being a "gym rat" was an outlet, I think, for both of us. A lot of my memories are behind the scenes and locker room-type stuff. With that said, I will never forget our games against Carroll – mainly when we played them in Helena. I grew up watching that rivalry and my grandpa Jim came to the games when we played there.

The two main lessons I learned are to appreciate relationships along the way and not get caught off-guard or overwhelmed with emotional highs and lows.  

Jenessa: I loved being in the gym. Shooting hoops in dad's shop was my favorite thing to do. I'd open the big overhead door to let the Montana night air in, turn the music up, and shoot. It was so fun. Being in the gym has always been good for my mental outlook.

Tony Trudnowsking coaching the Laurel Locomotives boys basketball teamTony, tell us about the Laurel Locomotives and your incredible season?
Tony: This year was my first as a high-school head coach, and I am the third head coach at Laurel in the past three years. I inherited an athletic team with seven seniors with high goals and expectations. We had many challenges early with me being a new coach with new ideas and a new system challenging kids in new ways in a program that has lacked stability.

On top of that, the COVID pandemic presented us with a shortened season with a reduced number of practices and games and the constant knowledge that we were one positive case away from being shut down for two weeks.
With all of that, our team adopted the motto to "Expect Nothing. Appreciate Everything". We kept things simple and emphasized attitude, effort, defense, and rebounding from a coaching standpoint. We had some bumps in the road early, but the kids – led first by our best player Colter Bales (who is an Oredigger recruit) and our point guard Wylee Schnetter – really bought into our motto and each other. We ultimately finished 10-3 in the regular season, took second in our divisional tournament, and 3rd at state. Our 3rd place finish at state included us regrouping and winning two games on Saturday after a very emotional double-overtime loss to Dillon on Friday night. 

Laurel Locomotives basketball
Above: Coach Tony Trudnowski and the Laurel Locomotives basketball team after their third place finish at the 2021 state A tournament.

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MontanaSports.com: Third time's a charm: Tony Trudnowski proving to be right choice for Laurel

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