ESCANABA - After winning their first six basketball games, the Escanaba jayvee girls had high hopes of finishing above .500.
That didn't quite happen as they finished 10-10.
"We were certainly hoping for a little better," said coach Kurt Schwalbach. "We were playing so well. Everything was working. The girls were having fun on the floor, but we never had that big output we were anticipating."
The Eskymos suffered their first loss on Dec. 20, falling 52-49 at Houghton.
Then, 5-foot-11 freshman Michelle LaFave was elevated to varsity shortly after the holidays.
"Little bit of our chemistry went down after Michelle moved up," said Schwalbach. "We hoped one of the other kids would step up and take control, but that didn't happen. Although, we're happy with our team overall. When we played together as a team, we played real well. The girls always worked hard in practice."
Sophomore guard Ashley Cook led the Eskymos by averaging seven points a game. She was followed by 6-0 freshman forward-center Sam Connor (6.3) and sophomore guard Morgan Verbrigghe (6.1).
"We switched Ashley from the point to shooting guard and she felt more comfortable in that role," said Schwalbach. "It was nice to have some height. Sam helped us on the boards and Morgan really worked hard on defense."
Also providing height was 5-11 sophomore forward Kami Fritz.
Sophomore point guard Sydney Gafner directed the offense, with backcourt mate Lynsey Collins as the sixth player, and Brittany Tebo and Amanda Mortl providing quality relief minutes.
"We were more guard-oriented this year," said Schwalbach. "The other girls did a good job, too. I hope they all had fun this season. We had a lot of great kids on the team and great parents who stood behind us all the way. I enjoyed coaching with Kelly (coach O'Connell) this year. I've learned a lot from him."
The freshmen recovered from a 2-7 start to finish 6-8.
"We were very happy to win four of our last five games," said coach Dena Fedell. "We finished with 11 girls and all of them scored this season. We wanted them to know as many of the positions as they could and be ready in case of an injury or players being brought up (to the jayvees)."
Fedell believes lengthy gaps between some of the early-season games may have led to the slow start.
"We had wished for more games," she said. "We sometimes went 3-4 weeks without a game, which makes it hard to keep the girls motivated. We try to plan fun activities for them. We also don't practice weekends unless we have a game on Monday."
Fedell says the Eskymos get better each time they played.
"For example, Gladstone beat us the first two games, then we beat them the third time," she added. "Also, Menominee beat us by nine points the first time and six points the second time. At the very end, when we had all the games together, we played very well."
Tara Strahl, a 5-10 center, was elevated to the jayvees after the sixth game.
"We improved as a team because we knew we had to cover the middle after Tara moved up," said Fedell.
Guard-forwards Paxton Fedell and Jessica Gill led Esky with 63 and 62 points, respectively. Point guard Brittany Levesque added 54.
"Jessica could break presses and fill any position," said coach Fedell. "She didn't see much down time. Brittany did a great job ballhandling. We could count on her to collect some fouls. Many of her points came on fast breaks and layups."
Twins Mary and Makayla Houle did a "good job stepping into different roles," Fedell said. "Mary is a good ballhandler, and Jaymie Frappier has a beautiful outside shot."
Providing quality reserve minutes were Alexis Emery, Isabelle Wellman, Lexis Warning and Olivia Berquist.
"All of the girls gave a tremendous effort," said coach Fedell. "These girls have the talent. They're an excellent group. I think we have great things coming from them."
The season presented an enormous personal challenge for Fedell, whose father lost his battle with cancer in November.
"This was my toughest season in eight years," she said. "I didn't know if I was going to coach, but my dad encouraged me to keep going. I keep a picture of him on the back of my clipboard to remind me who I am."