GARDEN CORNERS - There's reason for encouragment for the Big Bay de Noc Black Bears as they get ready to open their soccer season.
First, the Black Bears have 18 on their team compared to a dozen a year ago.
"That's a big improvement over last year," said coach Gary Sporer. "It's a plus having more players. It increases competition on the team, plus there's a rest factor. Kids have more opportunities to take in fluids."
The Black Bears, who open by hosting Niagara, Wis. Tuesday at 6 p.m., have nine returners. Among them are three seniors and three juniors
Senior returners include forward Ryan Minor, backfielder Holly Severin and midfielder Jordyn Bradshaw.
"These kids bring a lot of leadership, experience and skill," said Sporer. "We're fortunate to have senior leadership in all three areas of the field. That's a real advantage."
Aug. 21 - Niagara, Wis.; Aug. 23 - Iron Mountain; Aug. 25 - at Escanaba; Aug. 30 - Marquette jayvees.
Sept. 8 - Escanaba; Sept. 11 - at Niagara, Wis.; Sept. 13 - Kingsford; Sept. 15 - Big Bay de Noc Invitational; Sept. 18 - at Iron Mountain; Sept. 20 - Manistique; Sept. 21 - Copper Country Christian; Sept. 22 - at Houghton; Sept. 25 - Grand Marais; Sept. 27 - at Hannahville; Sept. 29 - at Sault Ste. Marie.
Oct. 2 - Marquette jayvees; Oct. 4 - at Kingsford; Oct. 5 - Houghton; Oct. 6 - at Copper Country Christian; Oct. 9 - at Manistique; Oct. 13 - U.P. tournament at Marquette;
Oct. 15 - Hannahville.
Junior returners are goaltender Alex Ranguette, midfielder John Green and backfielder Isaac Cooper.
"We have experienced players in key positions," said Sporer. "Some of the new players are showing quite a bit of skill. We're quite encouraged. Yet, this will certainly be a learning experience for some kids. Half of our kids are newcomers. Some are new to the sport. Others are younger players. We're still a developing team."
The Black Bears are playing well as a unit, according to Sporer.
"The kids have a real sense of teamwork," he said. "They're bonding real well together. We realize we're playing bigger schools. Our measure is how well we stay in matches and reach our own potential. We never quit . We play hard until the final whistle blows."
There are also some challenges as Sporer explains.
"Our biggest challenge is our movement off the ball," he said. "We need to take advantage of our scoring opportunities. We tend to have fewer scoring chances, which means we need to put the ball in the net."
Following Tuesday's opener, the Black Bears host Iron Mountain Thursday and face Bayside Soccer Club at Bay College on Saturday.
"We enjoy playing Escanaba (Bayside)," said Sporer. "They're such a strong program fundamentally. We enjoy each other's company and have a mutual respect for each other's program. We also enjoy our rivalries with Sault Ste. Marie, Hannahville and Grand Marais.
"I'm real excited about this season. I'm optimistic. So is the team."