Eskymos’ tennis made lasting memories with U.P. crown
ESCANABA — A week has passed since the Escanaba Eskymos have been crowned Upper Peninsula Division tennis champions with memories that will likely last a lifetime.
“It was emotional and exciting, probably one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had,” said fifth-year coach Tom Penegor. “Not only do you experience the excitement surrounding the event — as a coach you see what they should do different — but you can’t go out and do it for them.
The Eskymos scored 19 points for their first title in 14 years, followed by host and three-time defending champ Negaunee 13 and Menominee 10.
“The guys were very motivated and hungry,” said Penegor. “They went out and took the title. It wasn’t given to them. We wanted the kids to win each match. We didn’t want them to think about it. We just wanted them to go out and do it.
“Hats off to Menominee, which won a three-setter, and Negaunee, which won a three-setter at No. 4 singles. They (Negaunee) put the work and time in. We used them as our model in that we had to do the same thing. The team in 2018 was probably just as talented, but they weren’t as hungry as this year’s team. You have to work hard every day to find out what works for them.”
Prior to the championship round, the path to the title became a little longer as the teams experienced a three-hour rain delay.
“As coaches, we sit down and consider the situation,” said Penegor. “How do you react to that? We’re very proud of them. They really did well. What I think helped us is going through a strong challenge in the Great Northern Conference meet (May 27 at Marquette). I think we gained some mental toughness.”
The Eskymos won that meet for the first time since 2003, also marking the first time since 1999 they were GNC and U.P. champs in the same year.
“We have quite a few guys coming back,” said Penegor. “We’ll definitely be senior-oriented next year. I appreciate my wife being patient and letting me go out and coach these kids and share my time with them and our assistant coaches (Chris Ogren and Alan Adams) for all their support. I’m very blessed to have them and great kids and parents. I also want to thank God for providing me with this opportunity.”
Among those expected to return are reigning No. 3 singles champion Nathan Howes and No. 2 doubles champs Isaac Maki and Dawson Williams.
Viktor Pospisil and Ryan Moreau (No. 1 doubles) and Tanner McDonald-Jordan Nance (No. 3 doubles) have departed as U.P. champions.
The program has a rich history despite the prior absence of GNC and U.P. titles.
“We had several (NCAA) Division 1 players come through the ranks at Escanaba,” said Penegor. “We had some good teams and players in the ’70s and ’80s.”
Among them are Dennis Lueneburg, Tom Mitchell and Paul Pertile, all of whom played at Western Michigan University.
Penegor says he’s impressed with some of the facilities in the U.P.
“Marquette, Negaunee, Westwood and Kingsford all have state of the art courts,” he added. “It would really be nice to have some of those here.”