By John Vrancic
ESCANABA - After struggling on the volleyball court the past few years, the Escanaba Eskymos hope to step up to the next level this season.
The Eskymos, who open in Saturday's Sault Ste. Marie Invitational, have five returning seniors among their 13 athletes.
"We definitely have some good athletes," said coach Bron Harmon. "We have 13 kids whom I think can contribute to the team. We have more depth than we've had in a while."
Leading the list of returners is setter Holly Ettenhofer.
"Holly has great ability to pass and is positive and vocal," said Harmon. "I think there's a great deal of respect between Holly and the other girls. They're able to communicate."
Sharing the setting duties is junior newcomer Alexa Langfford.
"Alexa will get valuable time on the court," said Harmon. "We'll run a 5-1 offense with Holly and 6-2 with Alexa and Holly. We plan to mix things up. I think we have a lot of options. We'll be able to respond to our opponents."
Other returning seniors are 5-foot-11 middle and outside hitter Karissa Rudden, 5-11 middle hitter Kathy Wellman and outside hitters Lliyah Edwards and Ashley Lantagne.
"Karissa is a very consistent player who reads the ball well," said Harmon. "Lliyah has a great vertical leap and can be an explosive hitter. Kathy is our most improved player from last year. She does a nice job in the middle and will be a strong blocker for us, and Ashley provides stability at the net.
"We'll rely on these girls for leadership and their ability to read the court. We look for them to be positive role models."
Additional junior newcomers include 5-10 middle hitters Kami Fritz and Morgan Verbrigghe, outside hitters Sydney Gafner, Jade Heliin and Aalysiah Spencer, defensive specialist Ashley Cook and defensive specialist/setter Brittany Bruce.
Harmon liked many of the things she saw from the Eskymos in their scrimmage with Manistique on Thursday.
"I really like the cohesiveness of this team," she said. "I like their ability to stick together and play through anything. Only, we need to work on our speed in transition. We were sometimes late in reading plays. When we did that, we struggled. But when we got a good read, we ran our offense quite well."
Also, Harmon likes opening the season in Sault Ste. Marie.
"It's a nice tournament," she added. "We get to see some of the bigger schools from downstate we don't get to see anywhere else. This gives us a chance to play against some strong teams."
Harmon also prefers the Eskymos focus on their first tournament rather than looking ahead to other matches.
"We really haven't thought about the (Great Northern) conference at all," she said. "Marquette lost a lot of seniors from last year, but they and Gladstone always find a way to field strong teams. Our conference is usually pretty tough, and I'm sure it will be again this year."
Aug. 18 - at Sault Ste. Marie; Aug. 21 - at Iron Mountain; Aug. 28 - Negaunee; Aug. 30 - at Menominee.
Sept. 6 - at Stephenson; Sept. 8 - at Gladstone; Sept. 11 - at Negaunee; Sept. 13 - at Gladstone; Sept. 15 - at Marquette; Sept. 20 - Marquette; Sept. 25 - Menominee.
Oct. 2 - Kingsford; Oct. 6 - Escanaba Elks Invitational; Oct. 9 - Gladstone; Oct. 16 - at Kingsford; Oct. 23 - at Marquette; Oct. 25 - Stephenson.