ESCANABA, Mich. (WJMN) – All the momentum is with the Escanaba Tennis program.
Last season, the Eskymos had a season to remember. They won a Great Northern Conference title for the first since 2006. They captured a D1 U.P. Championship, their first since 2007. It was the first time they accomplished both of those feats in the same year since 2003.
They’re not letting that success get to their head as they’re focused on building a consistent winner.
“It was a very rewarding year,” said Tom Penegor, head coach for the Eskymos. “The kids worked really hard to get a real good group of kids. We had a lot of first-time seniors that played that got championships. So, it’s just nice to see some of the kids that worked hard over the four years finally come away with some hardware like we did last year. So it was fun. You know, our goals always are just to have fun and to get better and then to win on top of that, it’s just like icing on the cake.”
Their success has paid off in multiple ways.
“Our numbers are up for the number of kids that have gone out for the team,” said Penegor. “Last year, we had about 28-29. This year, we’re up to like 35-36. So that’s like a 17, 18% increase. So that’s nice.”
Along with the rise in numbers, new facilities are on the horizon thanks to a $200,000 donation. The plans include four new courts, a pavilion and the resurfacing of their old courts.
“We had by a donation from Pat Abrahamson and giving us $200,000 for this project, which would include the four new courts and a pavilion,” said Penegor. “Also, we wanted to resurface the existing courts at that time because they haven’t been done in 10 years and we want them done. It’d be the most cost-effective. They haven’t done at the same time that you do new courts. So that’s exciting for the boys and girls. So I mean it’s just a positive thing. You know, being in the G.N.C. and having a course that the other schools will be very nice and beneficial to our program to our practices and also, you know to them, the matches that we can all have them at one site.”
With a solid season last year, Escanaba returns experience on the court.
“We do have seven players that are coming back from our last year’s team,” said Penegor. “So having a base of those players, hopefully, they can share some of that experience and some of the things that they did and have to do in order to compete at that level at the end of the season is important. Hopefully, they can illustrate that by example and also to their words to help our younger players, you know, achieve hopefully what we did last year, which is one of our goals.”
One of those is senior Gunnar Dlugas.
“It’s actually really tough picking our lineup because there are so many good kids to put in the lineup and they can all be valuable players,” said Dlugas, who plays #1 singles for the Eskymos. “Our top is usually kind of secured and then the rest is probably going to change throughout the year as we go.”
“We have all our single players coming back so that’s going to be our strength,” said Penegor. “Our doubles, we’ll have three new doubles teams, so that’s going to be new for us. We’ve only had a few practices outside so we don’t know how everybody’s going to respond yet. So usually that takes the first few weeks or even longer than that to find out. You know who is the final 12 to get into that end-of-the-season roster that you want to have your best 12 out there. You know when you have your conference and your U.P finals.”
And while the goal is to win this year, Penegor says he wants to build consistency within the Eskymo Tennis program.
“We have a nice balance,” said Penegor. “We have 12 seniors and then we have like nine freshmen. So, you know we are kind of an experienced team this year. But we have a lot of young players too that are committing, you know, to our team this year. So they know that when we lose 12 seniors that there’s going to be a lot of openings for next year. And that’s the secret is to have a nice balance of youth and experience so that you can kind of be like what Negaunee is and they always have a good team. They always have a feeder program where when people leave, they have somebody to fill in those spots. And that’s our goal here is to get something like that.”
The Eskymo’s open up their season with a meet at West Iron County on Tuesday, April 26th.