ESCANABA - Despite the constant battle against winter weather, the Escanaba Eskymos are still preparing for the tennis season in hopes that eventually, they will actually be able to shovel off the courts and play.
"We're doing the best we can, but nothing is set yet," Eskymos coach Jim Hansen said last week. "We actually got outside to hit some balls this week, but it didn't last too long. Everyone's hands and faces were numb after about an hour. It's not ideal tennis weather."
As of last week, the team was only able to practice outdoors twice on two courts that had been temporarily cleared off. Therefore, they haven't really been able to take part in any challenge matches yet. That leaves the 47-man lineup a little up in the air right now, but Hansen has some key pieces returning from last year's team.
Senior John Brant and junior TJ Myrick, who were respectively the Eskymos' No. 3 and No. 4 singles players, are back on the roster this season. They will join seniors Jake Eastin and Dave Fix, who received All-U.P. nods on the No. 1 doubles team last year.
"It's a great group of kids just all around," Hansen said. "From the seniors down to the freshmen, they're all really nice, hard-working kids, and good students. We've got everything from a first year senior to freshmen to experienced seniors and everything in between."
Last year's No. 2 doubles team, Mike Shields and Steve Wood, are also returning. The Eskymos additionally have three players who saw some action at doubles and singles action last year in PJ Uhazie, Dom Aos, and Stephen Prica. Hansen said he expects them to be in the mix again this season.
Apr. 25 - at Menominee; Apr. 30 - Gladstone.
May 2 - Iron Mountain; May 7 - at Kingsford; May 9 - Negaunee; May 13 - Marquette; May 14 - Kingsford; May 15 - at Gladstone; May 16 - Menominee; May 20 - at Iron Mountain; May 21 - at Marquette; May 23 - at Kingford; May 28 - West Iron County; May 29 - at Marquette.
"We have a huge group of guys vying for these spots," he said. "I would expect that they'll be back to contribute."
The bad weather has played a role in every spring sport this year, and it will inevitably take its toll on some of the teams due to lack of practice time and other factors. But Hansen is confident in the work ethic of his team, and believes they will make the most of it.
"I think everybody is in the same boat," he said. "It may end up hurting a younger, less experienced guy if they don't have a natural knack for the game. They need every rep and hit they can get. But with some of these other guys, it's like riding a bike. Put a racket in their hand, and they get right back to form."
He added that a lot of the players have gone down to Marinette over the winter to play in their dome.
"Hopefully, the weather will hurt us less than it does other people," he said. "But we are looking forward to getting the season started and having a great spring."
Escanaba is set to take on Menominee Thursday, and that should be their first on-court test, rain or shine. Today's meet at West Iron County was cancelled.
"Everything to this point has been weather dependent," Hansen said. "But we should be able to play either way Thursday, because if it's bad we can just move to the dome."