ESCANABA - After blasting their way through the district and regional tournaments last year, the Escanaba Eskymos softball team finally fell to Saginaw Swan Valley in the Division II state quarterfinals at Central Michigan University.
Out of the 15 girls on this year's varsity roster, eight of them were on that team. They remember what it was like to push their way so close to the pinnacle, and they look forward to getting back out onto the field.
"You can't replace that kind of trip," said Eskymos coach John LaMarch. "I'm sure a lot of people in the area didn't expect us to do as well as we did, and nobody is making predictions for this year, but the kids get really excited when they think about the prospects of making it to the quarterfinals again, and what's beyond that.
"The girls came back hungry, and it's a great thing to build on."
Returning to the team this year is ace pitcher Codi Jenshak, who was a big contributor to the team's run in the postseason.
"I think it's going to be a great season," she said. "There's a lot of girls coming out and working hard. I'm confident in what we have. I think we have a lot of talent coming back, and new girls coming up, so it's exciting to see how we stack up against the competition."
March 29-30 - Spring Swing Tournament at Marquette.
April 20 - at Ashwaubenon Invitational; April 23 - Negaunee;
May 2 - at Rapid River; May 4 - at Pulaski Invitational; May 9 - Kingsford; May 10 - at Alpena; May 11 - at Petoskey Invitational; May 13 - at Marquette; May 14 - Gladstone; May 16 - Pulaski; May 17 - Cheboygan; May 18 - Esky Lions Challenge; May 21 - at Gladstone; May 23 - Marquette.
Seniors Nicole Juhl, Braedyn Bosilovatz, Emily Bogaudo, and Brianna Belanger, as well as juniors Sydney Gafner, Ashley Cook and Jennifer Koish are also returning to the roster this season.
Some of the new additions on the team are juniors Shelby Gregoire and Brittany Bruce, sophomores Michelle LaFave, Jamie Frappier, and Rebecca Piron. The lone freshman on the roster is Calle Heller, who was a standout on Escanaba's Junior Little League team that played in the World Series in Kirkland, Wash. last summer.
"Talent-wise, they're very athletic, and there's a reasonable amount of speed," LaMarch said. "We have a really good hitting team, and we have depth in pitching. Best of all, they are excited to play and they're hungry. We've just got to channel that all and we'll see where it takes us."
The Eskymos will open their season this weekend at the Spring Swing Dome Tournament in Marquette.
"There's certain parts of the game you miss out on when you're not outside, and we have to be creative in practice," he added. "But we can't wait to get up to Marquette and throw the ball."
LaMarch said that while he wants the team to have fun this weekend, he also wants them to be competitive and start their journey on the right path.
"I want them to get used to winning," he said. "Winning takes care of a lot of things, and you have to know that feeling to continue down that path. We're going to play our best softball, starting this weekend."
After the tournament, the Eskymos will face a 20-day layover before resuming play April 20 at Ashwaubenon. Although the team would rather be out there competing, they don't intend to squander their free time either.
"It is what it is," LaMarch said. "We're going to work on things and try to do some team building, making sure everyone is buying into what we are doing. We want everyone to be on the same page, excited, and all working toward the same goal."