ESCANABA - The Escanaba boys tennis team doesn't have a lot of experience, but what lacks in years, is made up for in athleticism.
"I think our athleticism will help us be competitive in our matches," said head coach Jim Hansen. "We don't have a ton of what you'd say lifelong tennis players, where that's their only sport and that's what they focus on. We've got some really good athletes. We've got some guys that play two and three sports, whether it's track, cross country, football, wrestling or basketball."
Esky features a lot of new faces but they also return a "lifelong" player in senior Steve Prica.
"He's a guy who's been with us for four year and he plays tennis year around," Hansen noted. "He puts in a lot of work and goes to camps. He had a visit at LSSU and plays in different tournaments throughout the year."
Prica switched between No. 3 and No. 4 singles last season but Hansen expects him to take over the No. 1 singles position this season with the graduation of seven players from last year's lineup.
Prica is penciled in at the No. 1 singles spot, but Hansen noted that the rest of the field is wide open, with the graduation of the No. 1 and 2 doubles from last year.
The remaining schedule:
April 22 - West Iron County
April 24 - Menominee
April 28 - at Gladstone
May 1 - at Iron Mountain
May 6 - Kingsford
May 8 - at Negaunee
May 10 - at Kingsford Invite
May 12 - Marquette
May 13 - at Kingsford
May 14 - Gladstone
May 15 - at Menominee
May 19 - Iron Mountain
May 20 - at Marquette
May 22 - GNC meet @ Marquette
May 27 - at West Iron County
May 28 - at U.P. Finals @ Kingsford
"We've got a lot of turnover this year which is good," he said. "We're not really experienced but we've got some guys that played on the varsity last year and it just creates a lot of good opportunity for kids to step up."
Though eight of the 12 players on varsity are either first or second year players, the Eskymos feature a returning senior class of Dom Aos, Collin Uhazie, Travis Heller, Trevan Wendrick, Jared Bizeau and Sean Berhow and Steve Wood.
"We've got a really good mix of two and three sport athletes on the team and when you take a racket and put it in an athlete's hand they can do some things with it," Hansen said.
Hansen also noted the surprise play of first year players Alec Slaga (junior) and Dan VanEffen (sophomore). Both stepped in to the starting line-up in the Eskymos indoor meet in Marinette last week.
Escanaba might not field its top lineup until later in the season as a handful of players are involved in other spring activities such as jazz band and singing ensembles. Hansen believes this will add to the competitiveness of practice.
"When there is all of these different activities going on in the spring and one or two guys are gone here or there it gives a couple of other guys an opportunity in a meet and if they're successful then they get confidence, then the next time they challenge the people that are there it makes it all the more interesting," Hansen stated.
While the Eskymos lineup is uncertain, so is the GNC, according to Hansen. He noted that Kingsford and Marquette are traditionally solid and Menominee is on the rise.
Weather pending, Escanaba will get a chance to face off against GNC foe West Iron County on Tuesday at home. Hansen said the Wykons are a solid program and will be a good gauge of where the team is.
"That's always kind of a measuring stick for us," he said. "If we can play pretty well against West Iron then we know that we're going to have opportunities to do well throughout the season."
The Escanaba team is self funded this season. Players have raised money through selling adds on the back of their shirts. Hansen thanked those businesses and parents who helped make this season possible.