ESCANABA - Longtime Escanaba High School tennis coach Dennis Lueneburg recently had to search through his wardrobe and dig out his teaching hat. It surely collected some dust after a sparking 2011 season that saw the Eskymo girls win a slew of team and individual awards.
When you have 14 seniors, you can accomplish these things. When they leave, it's back to the basics.
Having fun, that is.
"We may not be as skilled as what we have been in the past, but the girls are doing what they can," said Lueneburg of his squad, which includes just five seniors. "This is all about developing kids and seeing how far they can go. A lot of them are just here for fun, some want to get better. I think I can get them to be good tennis players."
There is turnover nearly across the board on this year's Eskymos. Returnees at No. 1 singles (Codi Jenshak) and half of No. 1 doubles (Braedyn Bosilovatz) will help bolster a young lineup as the team of 37 battles to fill in other open spots.
Cathryn Wood, a No. 2 doubles player last season will move up to No. 1 doubles to play alongside familiar teammate Bosilovatz. The pair played together at No. 3 doubles in 2010 as sophomores.
The second doubles pairing this year could be Jalyn Dagenais and newcomer senior Zoe Berquist.
Lueneburg expected his top two doubles pairings to be strong.
"Braedyn was at No. 1 doubles last year (with Lauren Kulbertis ) and was All-U.P. and All-State. She'll be on a team with Wood and they'll be a very formidable No. 1 team. I like the way they're playing," he said.
"Zoe is a newcomer this year as a senior and she's a good athlete. She'll give us some stability in doubles. She works hard and she's a good player."
The third doubles pairing could feature Shelby Gregoire and junior Audrey Wilson.
"They got in some matches last year," said Lueneburg. Audrey has a little more varsity experience than Shelby, but they're learning."
Jenshak will be the lone returnee to the singles lineup. A reigning All-State player and multi-sport athlete, Jenshak will look to help set an example.
"We try to get kids, even if they are multi-sport athletes, to pick up a tennis racquet. Codi, even when she's on softball trips, always carries a racquet with her. It's an easy sport to do that with," said Lueneburg. "My seniors are always trying to encourage kids to come out, which is good. They have fun, they know the program and they don't put pressure on the young kids. They just tell them, 'this is fun, you should try it.'"
Sophomore Brianna Dault is one of a pack of underclassmen vying for a spot on 2-4 singles.
"Dault will play for us. She's in the mix with a lot of new people that are looking for singles positions and lower doubles positions," said Lueneberg. "My singles are basically going to be totally new people. I'm doing a lot of beginning tennis instruction and that's OK. The girls I have at varsity practice are working hard. I'm just looking for good attitude."
One thing that excites Lueneberg is the influx of freshmen on the team. Last season, there were only two. "This year," said Lueneburg, "I have 10, and that will probably jump to 15 once the (Escanaba Junior girls) softball team gets back from the World Series. If they stay on, we'll get them involved in summer programs next year. That's the way you become a better tennis player. We can only do so much; you have to put the time in."
Lueneburg said he isn't so much looking for victories as he is improvement this season, with a strong Kingsford team expected to be an early favorite in the Great Northern Conference.
"A lot of this season will be about matchups. Last year, we had eight solid flights at the U.P. Finals. You need at least five solid flights to compete and we're not there yet. I look at it as a slow process of getting skills up to par, then you can start teaching skills and strategies," said Lueneburg. "You have to be realistic. It's about developing and making progress. By the end of the year, if the kids are playing hard and they're satisfied, I think they'll play some good matches. Every day, I just look at improving. That's what excites me."