ESCANABA - A large turnout has the Escanaba Eskymos feeling a bit optimistic about this cross country season.
The Eskymos have 50 on their roster compared to 34 a year ago.
"We have a lot of extra people out," said second-year coach Jake Berlinski. "We could end up with close to 55. We still have a few softball girls playing (in the World Series) out in Washington. Once they get back, they'll help us."
Dennis Grall |?Daily Press
Escanaba’s Andy Stenberg runs during the Great Northern Conference finals last season. An All-state runner, Stenberg figures to be a big part of Escanaba’s 2012 team.
They open Tuesday at 11 a.m. at the Munising Invitational on the Valley Spur Cross Country Ski Trails.
Escanaba has 30 boys out, led by Division 1 senior all-stater Andrew Stenberg.
"Andrew is kind of the measuring stick for everybody else," said Berlinski. "He shows what it takes to be among the top couple runners. The other kids see how hard he works and they feed off that."
Aug. 21 - at Munising; Aug. 30 - at Marquette.
Sept. 15 - at Wausau, Wis; Sept. 18 - at Menominee; Sept. 22 - at Stephenson; Sept. 25 - at Munising; Sept. 29 - Golden K Kiwanis Invitational.
Oct. 4 - Gladstone Invitational at Flat Rock; Oct. 11 - GNC meet; Oct. 20 - U.P. Division 1 Finals at Munising.
Also among the leaders are All-Upper Peninsula senior Brad Derouin and junior Jared Ogren.
"Brad had a pretty good season last year," said Berlinski. "He was among the top couple runners in most meets. Jared is pretty steady. We know what to expect from him. He's like a rock for our team. Only, we would like to see Jared bring his running up to the next level. We expect he's going to be able to do that."
Also expected to be in the opening day varsity lineup are junior Steven Prica and sophomores Eric Cousineau, Gabe Ostrenga and Tyler Hardwick, who was hindered much of last season by a hamstring injury.
Also in the hunt for varsity spots are sophomore Steve Merki and senior P.J. Uhazie.
"P.J. is kind of our lifeline," said Berlinski. "He's a vocal presence on our team. He's such a hard worker, which rubs off on other kids in a positive way."
Gone through graduation are Ed Terres and Cody Cousineau.
The girls are led by junior Aubree Peterson, their lone senior Joanie Stacey and freshman Callie Heller.
"Aubree spent time running in track and cross country camp at Grand Valley (State University) this summer," said Berlinski. "She was disappointed in how things went at the U.P. Finals last year and is looking forward to a successful year. She's wants to run under 20 minutes (for 3.1 miles) this season. If she does that, she could contend.
"Joanie looks like she put some work in during the summer. She leads by example and Callie won the majority of the middle school meets the past two years. Callie is tough physically and mentally. I think she could be in the mix."
Sophomore returners are Jordyn VanPortfliet and Isabelle Wellman. Joining them are sophomore newcomers Taylor Oswald and Brittinie Larson.
Among last year's graduates are Olivia Nash, who will playing basketball at Division I Oakland University this winter, and Dominique Bougie and Mollee Ostrenga.
"Our girls are young," said Berlinski. "When you lose that much leadership, it's tough to replace. Although, being young doesn't exclude us from being competitive. We have some talent."
Sharing the coaching duties is second-year assistant Jeff Wright.
This year's schedule looks a little different as Esky dropped the North Central All-Class Invitational, and the Kingsford Invitational has been cancelled due to construction on its course (Iron Mountain City Park).
The Eskymos will instead go to the Smiley Invitational in Wausau, Wis. on Sept. 15 and the M&M Invitational at Menominee three days later.