ESCANABA - A new class of Escanaba Eskymos are ready to carve their own path in the successful history of EHS tennis.
WIth the graduation departure of Codi Jenshak, Braedyn Bosilovatz and Cathryn Wood, the team bids farewell to the last of its 2011 U.P. title team. Also departing is two-year starter Jalyn Dagenais.
Esky returns a handful but this will largely be a talented, yet inexperienced group when they take the courts for the first time today against Marquette at Ludington Park and EHS at 11 a.m. The Eskymos then host Menominee Thursday at 11 a.m.
"There's a lot of new faces and new positions for girls that were there in the past," said veteran coach and tennis guru Dennis Lueneberg, ever ready to take on a new challenge. "Everything is new and starting over, and that's what high school sports are all about.
"I have 35 girls and might still get more. It's in that range that I've had in the past. The girls are coming out and learning, a lot are beginners, coming out for the first time. So it's a lot of basic tennis. We're trying to teach them."
Most spots are fleshed out entering the first day of competition.
Aug. 21 - Marquette; Aug. 22 - Menominee; Aug. 24 - @Kingsford Invite; Aug. 26 - Munising/Gladstone; Aug. 27 - @Kingsford; Aug. 28 - @West Iron County; Aug. 29 - @Menominee.
Sept. 9 - Negaunee; Sept. 10 - @Gladstone; Sept. 12 - Kingsford; Sept. 16 - Gwinn; Sept. 17 - @Marquette; Sept. 19 - @Iron Mountain; Sept. 24 - @Marinette; Sept. 25 - GNC's @Marquette.
Oct. 2 - U.P. Finals @Kingsford.
Johanna Snowden, last year's No. 2 singles player, moves up to assume the No. 1 position.
"I think Johanna, even going from No. 2 to No. 1, it will be different," said Lueneberg. "But she's put in some time. She only won a couple matches last year, but she played hard.
"Every team has a good player, so Johanna will have her hands full every match, but I think she can handle it mentally. She plays hard right till the end and that's all you can ask of the girls."
The top two doubles flights should be solid as four players with at least a year of experience will hold them down.
At No. 1, Olivia Berquist and Shelby Gregoire will take the leap. The pair were U.P. champions playing at No. 4 last season. Junior Brianna Dault and senior Audrey Wilson will move up to No. 2 after playing at No. 3 last season.
"To go from No. 4 doubles up to No. 1, that's a big jump, a big learning curve," said Lueneberg. "But I like that way Olivia Berquist is playing. I'm so impressed, she only started a year ago, but she's aggressive, a good doubles player and Shelby backs her up. She's made some progress too."
Some familiar faces from the Esky softball team will fill in the singles lineup. Emily LaFave, Kayla VanPortfleit and Anna Burch joined the team late last season and will take starting positions this year.
"They'll be a major part of the singles lineup," said Lueneberg.
There is competition for the final two doubles pairings and Lueneberg will make a decision prior to today's match between Olivia LaForest, Paige Lancour, Angie LaMarch and Hannah Beversluis. According to Lueneberg, Beversluis, an incoming freshman, has the edge.
"I think she'll be the best of the group. I like her progress. She has the raw ability, the fast feet and the intensity of competing. She goes out there with a purpose and works hard. Her sisters were like that too. Lauren went undefeated a couple years ago. Hannah has a jump on the technique and will have a nice start if she takes to the game. I'm glad she came out. I've had eight straight years of Beversluis's, now four more years."
Lueneberg has coached multiple teams to U.P. titles and said part of the joy of coaching is seeing how far each of his teams can progress.
"Codi Jenshak, Cathryn Wood, Braedyn Bosilovatz, they came out as freshmen and ended up all-state. It will be nice to see if some of these girls end up that way in a few years," he said. "They definitely have the same skill set, but it's up to them now. They have to meet the coaches halfway. It's not just me being there telling them what to do. They have to apply that and have a little pride in what they're doing.
"I think we'll have a good core of kids. We'll be respectable."
Note: Escanaba High School will honor the girls' tennis program at halftime of the EHS football opener Thursday, August 29. A reunion of the 18 championship tennis teams from the mid 70's through 2011 is planned along with a golf outing at Escanaba Country Club and the teams will be recognized at the Athletic Field.