ESCANABA - The Escanaba Eskymos are leaning heavily upon their juniors as they enter this gymnastics season.
Esky, which opens Saturday at Rhinelander, Wis., has six returners on its squad of 16. All of them are juniors.
Among the returners are all-around gymnasts Erin Mattson, Tonilyn Gorsche and Rylee Doucette. Gorsche took last year off and Doucette has been battling a chronic ankle injury.
"We're looking for a lot of scoring opportunities for Tonilyn," said coach Theresa Pascoe. "She's a very clean and elegant gymnast. We're also looking for Erin to be one of our top scorers. Only, we need to work on her form and excecution. And if we can keep Rylee healthy, she'll have a successful season."
Also back are Maggie Richardson on balance beam, uneven bars and in floor exercise, Aalysiah Spencer (beam, floor and vault) and student manager Kylee Frossard, who will compete in floor and beam.
"Maggie will be strong in vault and floor and will help us out on bars," said Pascoe. "Floor and vault should be our stronger events. But we need to work on bars. We need to stay on those. The girls have the right idea, only they don't have the experience."
Dec. 8 - at Rhinelander, Wis.
Jan. 3 - Negaunee; Jan. 16 - at Marquette; Jan. 19 - at Clintonville, Wis.; Jan. 23 - at Negaunee; Jan. 26 - at Antigo, Wis.
Feb. 2 - Escanaba Elks Invitational; Feb. 6 - Marquette; Feb. 9 - at Parma Western; Feb. 16 - at Freeland; Feb. 20 - at Marquette.
Representing the senior class are exchange students Yamaly Aznar (from Mexico) and Annika Kraft (from Germany) in floor exercise.
"Both girls have never done gymnastics before, but they're having a lot of fun and doing very well," said Pascoe. We're a very young team. Seven of our girls haven't done any gymnastics which makes for lot of time spent on basic skills. Some even need to learn the terminology."
Isabelle Wellman, Esky's lone sophomore, will be entered in floor, beam and bars after playing basketball last year.
Freshman hopefuls are Erika Carne (all-around), Breanna Pratt and Rebecca Clark (floor and beam), Paige Dagenais (floor and vault) and Maddie Christensen and Megan Flath (floor).
"Erika is a very dedicated and hard working gymnast who wants to be on the varsity squad," said Pascoe. "Paige, Maddie and Breanna have expectations of being varsity gymnasts. Their routines are clean. When they pick up on a few moves, they will be part of the varsity squad."
Pascoe is well aware of the challenges in store for the Eskymos in Saturday's opener.
"The competition is always real strong at Rhinelander," she said. "That will be a good meet to see how we stack up with the Wisconsin teams and Negaunee. That will also help us prepare for what's ahead and where we need to change routines."
The Eskymos, who are then idle until Jan. 3 when they host Negaunee, also hope to return to the team regionals.
"Our six seniors have been here before," said Pascoe. "They know what to expect and what needs to be done to get back to the regionals."
Freshman Tara Price had hoped to compete this season. But she will be unable to do that following ankle surgery and is serving as a student manager.