ESCANABA - Filling events won't be a problem for the Escanaba girls' track team this season.
The Eskymos, who have 50 on their roster, are opening in today's Marquette Invitational at the Superior Dome.
"This is the most we've had since I've been here," said coach Dan DeLong, who's starting his 12th season as head coach. "It has been tough to practice inside (due to prolonged winterlike weather conditions), but it's nice to see the numbers and interest in our program. This makes for more competition in every event. Nobody is guaranteed a spot. We're looking to spread things out this year. We'll have more than one relay team in each race in some meets."
Gone through graduation is three-time Upper Peninsula Division 1 high jump champion Olivia Nash, now on the Oakland University basketball team, and fellow high jumper Meredith Marlett.
"We're certainly going to miss them," said DeLong. "We could always count on them getting points in high jump. It was like money in the bank."
Seniors include Holly Ettenhofer in the weight events and pole vault, Yamaly Azrar (weight events), Alexis Berube (hurdles) and German exchange student Annika Kraft (weight events).
April 16 - at Marquette (Superior Dome); April 23 - Marquette and Menominee; April 25 - Delta County Invitational; April 30 - at Kingsford.
May 3 - Escanaba Jayvee Invitational; May 7 - Iron Mountain and Gladstone; May 11 - at Negaunee; May 16 - D-1 regional; May 21 - jayvees at Menominee; May 23 - GNC meet at Gladstone.
June 1 - U.P. Finals at Kingsford.
"Annika is looking very strong in the weight events," said DeLong. "Also, John Prokos is working with the kids in the field events and he has been very helpful."
Leading juniors are Aubree Peterson and Brittinie Larson (distance), Lynsey Collins (hurdles and sprints) and Hayley Martineau (sprints).
Joining them are classmates Marlie Gillis (pole vault), Kayla Harris (long jump and sprints), Jade Heliin, Vivian Ruiz and Olivia Theut (weight events), Kayla Thomma (field events), Amelia Gordanier (sprints and field events), Brittany Tebo and LiAnne Roll (hurdles), Ashley Henderson, Sarah Hook and Taylor Oswald (distance)
Top sophomore prospects include Aimee Giese and Isabelle Wellman in the distances.
"I think the distances and hurdles will be our strength," said DeLong. "Aubree is one of the best runners in the U.P. and Aimee had a great cross country season last fall. We also have a lot of promising freshman. Only, they need to prove themselves."
Also helping with the coaching duties is longtime assistant Kathy Cibula.
"We're happy with the way our practices have gone," said DeLong. "The girls have been very positive despite not being able to get outside."
Among the other teams, DeLong points to Marquette as the team to beat in the U.P. and Great Northern Conference.
"Marquette is always strong," he said. "So is Negaunee. Menominee has good distance people and sprinters and Kingsford has some speed. Gladstone will be strong in the field events.
"It's going to be a dogfight in the GNC and our region in the distances. Calumet also has good distance runners and speed."