ESCANABA - The Escanaba boys and girls golf teams have a rare combination of talent and depth and that has coach Brian Robinette feeling pretty good heading into what should be the start of the season, Thursday.
"I would stack my team's skill level against any team," Robinette said Monday during a break directing practice at Escanaba County Club. "We have a lot of depth, especially on the girls like I've never had, and having looked at other golf teams too. This is a deep golf team."
18 girls and 24 boys make up the Eskymos this season, a number that Robinette certainly doesn't take for granted.
Escanaba’s Kelsey Motto tees off on hole No. 18 at Portage Lake in Houghton during the DIvision 1 U.P. Finals last season.
"18 girls, I couldn't believe it. My first year we had four and I had to talk a couple girls into playing. We finally broke through," he said. "Success breeds success and people want to be a part of it."
The Esky girls have a top flight player in senior Kelsey Motto, who is driven to be the person to beat in most events this season. After breaking 80 a couple times last season, Robinette now expects her to soar.
"Kelsey's golf swing looks tremendous right now. She broke 40 at Highland over last summer and had some of the best rounds of her life. She's driven. It's her senior year and she wants to go out guns blazing."
May 1 - Escanaba Quad; May 6 - Kiwanis Invite @ Wawonowin Country Club; May 8 - Northern Michigan Bank Invite; May 12 - @ Menominee; May 13 - Range Invite @ Wawonowin; May 16 - @ Munising (Pictured Rocks Country Club); May 22 - GNC Meet @ Kingsford; May 28 - U.P. Finals @ Marquette.
Seniors Abbey Strom and Amanda Bink and junior Payton Shelafoe gives Robinette four girls that are capable of shooting 100 or under.
"I'm very fortunate to have these four girls coming in. They're swinging excellent," said Robinette.
"Amanda has really improved her golf swing. She was my fifth girl once in a while last year, but now as I watch her swing the golf club, you can tell she's put in a lot of work. As far as her swing goes, the only girl I have that's swinging better right now would be Kelsey. Amanda has the capability to hit golf shots."
Key returners for the boys team include senior Dane Casperson and sophomores Dylan Gauthier and Nick Aird.
"Dan is putting on a clinic right now the way he's swinging it. I watch him on the range and he's very driven," said Robinette. "He's hitting a little farther than last year and he's always been a phenomenal putter. I've seen a lot of golfers and I would put Dane's putting stroke over just about anybody's. He's really very gifted.
"Dylan is in shape from the hockey season and I think his mind is in a much better place not nursing the injury (from last year). He played a lot over the summer. Nick's golf swing is much improved from last year. He could always hit it, but he's much more refined this year. He looks real confident."
Two talented freshman will have an opportunity to crack the top five, and come from good stock - John Kozitzky and Chris LeMire.
"John comes in with a lot of golf under his belt for a ninth grader. He lives alongside the Bluff right on a hole and has played since he was very young. I'm looking at seeing him in my top five." said Robinette.
"Chris has been a member out here (at Escanaba Country Club) and knows this course real well. He's a real coachable kid and smart. He's a practice fanatic when it comes to his short game.
"I don't see much doubt that Dane, Nick Aird and Dylan are going to be there. They're proven. From a swing standpoint, I like the way my two freshmen look, but I have to make sure they can prove it on the golf course."
The Marquette boys figure to be a main competitor this season after winning the GNC meet and dominating the U.P. Finals. They return much of their team, including U.P. Finals medalist Scott Frazier, who shot a 71 at Portage Lake last season.
"The Marquette boys had an impressive finish to the year. It's a pretty impressive group and only one was a senior," said Robinette. "I also think Gladstone will be very good. Between the three of us, there will be some real good battles. It's going to be fun.
"The kids need to understand that those two teams will beat us every time if we don't show up. They have quality golfers."
Going into the season, Robinette is optimistic about the Eskymos' prospects and more than satisfied with his depth, especially considering the frustrating aspects of the game.
"Golf isn't a very glamourous sport, it's just not," Robinette said. "It's a struggle to play this game even in perfect conditions.
"I think each person looks at it differently, but you're exposed. It's not playing on a basketball or football team. You can't deflect. You shot the score, period. I admire kids that play this game for that reason alone.
The Eskymos are scheduled to open the season at home Thursday, hosting Kingsford, Marquette and Gladstone.