ESCANABA - The Escanaba Eskymos may be short on experience this season, but not on talent.
Returning just four players from last year's senior-loaded squad, head coach Theresa Heidt hopes her team can overcome the turnover with superior athleticism and chemistry.
"This group of girls have played together throughout their careers and the chemistry on the team is wonderful,"Heidt said. "We have a little more hitting power than we had last year and the team leadership is top notch."
Returning seniors include setter Alyssa Polequin, outside hitter Jessica Gill, middle hitter Tara Strahl and libero Becca Piron.
"The returnees confidence is higher this year. They're the top dogs now and their confidence is high," said Heidt. "Mentally and physically, they're strong players."
Senior Sam Connor is new to the team and will add height in the front row along with Strahl and junior middle hitter Haile Waters. The rest of the team is comprised of juniors' Paige Daginais who will backup Polequin at setter, right hitter Mackenzie Leisner, right hitter Erika Carne, Maddie Cseter, JJ Laviolette and outside hitter Katie Ziebell.
Aug. 23 - at Sault Invite; Aug. 26 - at Iron Mountain
Sept. 2 - Negaunee; Sept. 4 - at Menominee; Sept. 9 - Kingsford; Sept. 11 - at Stephenson; Sept. 13 - at Gladstone Invite; Sept. 16 - at Negaunee; Sept. 18 - at Gladstone; Sept. 25 - Marquette; Sept. 27 - at Marquette Invite; Sept. 30 - Menominee
Oct. 11 - Escanaba Elks Invite; Oct. 14 - Gladstone; Oct. 21 - at Kingsford; Oct. 22 - at Manistique; Oct. 28 - at Marquette; Oct. 30 - Stephenson.
Laviolette a standout on the jayvees last season, will serve as a versatile backup specialist on the team.
Though the Eskymos are not particularly imposing up front, Heidt says her team will put pressure on the opposition by getting off more shot attempts. Defensively, Esky should have an advantage in the back row with athletes such as Piron and Laviolette diving for errant balls.
"We're running a new serve receive with the girls this year and we're going to try to hit more this year," Heidt said.
Escanaba will get its first action Saturday at the Sault Invitational. The team will face Houghton, Petoskey and Rogers City. Gladstone will also be at the tournament.
"I haven't seen a lot of Gladstone and I'm not sure what they look like, but every year they're tough competition," said Heidt. "I'm sure they have a lot to bring to the table this year. Their coach is very experienced."
Other contenders figure to be Great Northern Conference defending champion Stephenson, and Marquette which could return as many as nine seniors.
The Eskymos are scheduled to visit Iron Mountain on Tuesday before hosting Negaunee for their home opener on Sept. 2.