ESCANABA - A year ago, the Escanaba boys' track team was dominated by underclassmen and endured its share of growing pains.
The Eskymos, however, are returning a majority of that team, providing renewed optimism heading into this season.
Also, Esky has 33 on its roster this time, eight more than last season.
"I'm actually quite pleased with the turnout," said second-year coach Ryan Wender. "I think we'll be more well-rounded than last year. We have more kids to fill events. All the kids are hard workers. We have kids wanting to take responsibilty. They're willing to take ownership of the team. It's their team, and I'm there for them."
The Eskymos, led by five seniors, open Tuesday at 3 p.m. with the Marquette Invitational at the Superior Dome.
"That meet is a good measuring stick," said Wender. "We'll get a better feel for where our kids are at, although it's still just the first meet. Yet, it's nice to have that meet because you get a chance to compete. Plus, it's always good weather up there (indoors)."
April 17 - at Marquette (Superior Dome); April 24 - Marquette and Menominee; April 26 - Delta County Invitational.
May 1 - Kingsford; May 5 - Jayvees at Munising; May 8 - at Gladstone; May 12 - at Munising; May 17 - Division 1 regional at Gladstone; May 22 - Jayvees at Menominee; May 24 - GNC meet at Marquette.
June 2 - U.P. Finals at Kingsford.
Seniors include returners Ed Terres in the hurdles and 400-meter dash, Cody Cousineau (middle distance), Nick Roberts (distance), Ryan Marohnic (sprints and long jump) and newcomer Ryan Leisenring (weight events).
"Ed is taking a leadership role," said Wender. "Every kid came in knowing what to expect. I expect them to work hard, and they're willing to do that. They come every day and they don't complain. They just do what they need to do, and I think they enjoy being around each other."
Juniors include Andrew Stenberg (distance), Quinlan Hillesheim (hurdles), Jeremy Pepin (sprints) and Steve Godfrey (pole vault).
Joining them are promising sophomores Jordan Ogren (distance) and Jake Walker (middle distance).
"Andrew and Jordan are doing well," said Wender. "We expect them to contribute, and Quinlan is looking pretty sharp in the hurdles."
Esky, like all area teams, has struggled with the recent chilly and windy conditions.
"It has been hard to get times on kids," said Wender. "The first week was the best (weather) we had. But at that point, we were just trying to round the kids into shape. It was too early to hold time trials."
And what will this year's competition be like?
"I really haven't focused on the other teams," said Wender. "I've just been focusing on our team. Yet, all the teams in our (Great Northern) conference are pretty good. I know we struggled in the (Division 1) regionals last year, but the kids still enjoyed themselves. They like being here."
Sharing the assistant coaching duties are Brett Young (pole vault), Pat Gannon (distance) and Jim Boyle (hurdles).