GNC Champ Escanaba Hoping to Serve Up More History

By John Vrancic
Special for

June 2, 2021

ESCANABA — Fourteen years have passed since the Escanaba boys were last crowned Upper Peninsula tennis champions.

The Eskymos, fresh from earning their first Great Northern Conference title since 2003, will try to change that at today’s U.P. Division 1 Finals at Negaunee.

“We have a very nice opportunity ahead of us,” said fifth-year coach Tom Penegor. “We just went through a tough GNC meet (May 27 at Marquette). We’re hoping that will give us an edge in the U.P. Finals. I think we have some momentum.”

Standing in the way is five-time reigning champ Negaunee.

“They’ll be tough, and Marquette has good singles players,” said Penegor. “The other schools also have some good players. There’s pressure out there, and everybody responds to that differently. The game is just as much mental as physical. The scoring system is different from the GNC. You need every single point.”

The Eskymos have an all-junior singles lineup with Gunner Dlugas holding a 14-5 record at No. 1. Filling out singles are Shawn Beauchamp (13-7) at No. 2, Nathan Howes (15-3) at No. 3 and Connor Smale (10-2) at No. 4.

“It felt great to win the GNC,” said Dlugas, who among latest improvements to his game has made the transition from a two-handed to a one-handed backhand shot. “We hadn’t won the GNC since I was born. Four of us have played for two years, and the rest of the guys are first-year players. We’re a fresh team, and that’s why this is so important for us. We have a lot of No. 1 seeds and we’re definitely improving, which gives us a pretty good feeling going into the Finals. I think we’re ready to go.”

Also part of today’s lineup are senior Ryan Moreau and junior Viktor Pospisil, an exchange student from Mla Boleslov in the Czech Republic, who together are 10-2 at No. 1 doubles.

Escanaba tennis“I wasn’t supposed to play tennis, but I started playing with the guys at first, then decided to join the team,” said Popisil. “I had been playing in my hometown in Europe and appreciate having the opportunity to play here. I didn’t think we’d be this good at the beginning of the season, but everything kind of progressed as the season went on. We’ve been coming together as a team.”

Moreau said he truly enjoys playing with his partner.

“Viktor’s a great player, and we’ve become great friends,” he added. “All the players from the other schools come up and talk to him.

“I’m real excited about the Finals. Negaunee has a great program. We’re coming in as kind of an underdog. We definitely have to play our game and take the title away from them. If we do that, we should take it.”

Junior Isaac Maki and sophomore Dawson Williams fill the No. 2 flight.

“This experience has been awesome,” said Williams. “I learned a lot about tennis and made a lot of new friends. This is actually my first high school sport. Our first match (this season) against Menominee was exciting. I didn’t know how it was going to go, but I thought we performed beyond expectations.

“Negaunee as a great team, and West Iron County is very good. I thank God for giving me the strength to play at a high level and Coach, my teammates and parents for all their encouragement and support. Winning the GNC gave us a boost going into the Finals.”

Joining them in the doubles lineup are seniors Tanner McDonald and Jordan Nance (13-1) at No. 3 and senior Brayden Roberts and junior Joe Hubert at No. 4.

Should the Eskymos prevail today, it would mark the first time they’d have won the GNC and U.P. Finals in the same year since 1999.

“We had four practices before the U.P. Finals,” said Penegor. “After the GNC meet, we asked the guys if they wanted to practice over the weekend and they decided they wanted to do that.

“Our team has worked hard, and our assistant coaches (Chris Ogren and Alan Adams) have been a tremendous asset to our team this year.”

Tennis is a self-supporting program at Escanaba, and Penegor said one of the reasons he took over after retiring from the city was out of love for the sport.

“We appreciate the support of our sponsors, and the parents have driven us to some of the meets,” said Penegor. “They’ve also been big supporters of our team.

“We started with four seniors. It’s nice to have a mixture of younger kids with our seniors. This is definitely the best mix we’ve had in my five years as coach. We stress to the kids the importance of having fun, making improvements and working on their game.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS: (Top) Escanaba’s Ryan Moreau returns a volley this season against Ishpeming Westwood. (Middle) The Eskymos celebrate their Great Northern Conference championship. (Top photo courtesy of the Escanaba Daily Press; middle photo courtesy of the Escanaba athletic department.)

Lacrosse Finals Move to U-M Among Headlines as Spring Sports Ramp Up

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 9, 2024

The Girls & Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played at University of Michigan Lacrosse Stadium for the first time, one of the most notable changes for this season as sports ramp up for more than 100,000 athletes anticipated to participate this spring for Michigan High School Athletic Association member schools.

The MHSAA sponsors postseason competition each spring in baseball, girls and boys lacrosse, girls soccer, softball, girls and boys track & field, boys golf (Lower and Upper Peninsula) and girls golf (UP), and girls (LP) and boys (UP) tennis.

The U-M Lacrosse Stadium opened for competition in 2018 and seats 2,000 spectators. The Girls Lacrosse Finals will be played Friday, June 7, with Division 1 at 4 p.m. and Division 2 at 7 p.m. The Boys Lacrosse Finals will be played the following day, June 8, with Division 2 at 11 a.m. and Division 1 at 2 p.m.

Girls lacrosse also has a significant format adjustment this season, as games will be played with four 12-minutes quarters instead of the previous two halves, in part to allow coaches more opportunities to provide direct instruction during a game. Two more rules changes are expected to improve flow of play – players awarded a free position outside of the critical scoring area no longer must come to a stop and settled stance before self-starting, and false start penalties outside the critical scoring area have been eliminated.

Several more rules changes will be noticeable this spring:

In boys lacrosse, a change was made to enhance player safety. Play will stop immediately any time a player’s helmet comes off, and that player may not return until the next dead ball after play continues.

Fair and legal starts are a continued emphasis for track & field, and a rule change will allow for movement before the start of the race as long as a competitor does not leave their mark with a hand or a foot after the “set” command, or make forward motion before the starting device is activated.

A significant rule change in softball alters pitch delivery mechanics. The pitcher may now have both feet off the ground at the same time when releasing the ball as long as both feet remain within the 24-inch width of a pitching plate and the pitcher does not replant the pivot foot before delivering the pitch.

Another change in softball requires that a playbook/playcard be worn on the wrist or kept in a back pocket to reduce distractions. If worn by the pitcher, the equipment must be worn on the non-pitching arm. Similarly in baseball, a wristband with plays or instructions will be permitted but must be a single, solid color, and for pitchers may not contain the colors white or gray or be otherwise distracting. Baseball players must wear this wristband on the wrist or forearm, and pitchers may wear one only on their non-pitching arm.

Also in baseball, a rule change allows for one-way communication devices worn by the catcher to receive instructions from the dugout while on defense, for the purpose of calling pitches. The coach must be inside the dugout/bench area to use the communication device.

Golfers now are required to participate in at least four competitions for the high school team prior to representing that school team in an MHSAA Regional or Final. Those four regular-season competitions may be 9 or 18-hole events.

In tennis, for the first time in Lower Peninsula play, a No. 1 doubles flight from a non-qualifying team will be able to advance from its Regional to Finals competition. To do so, that No. 1 doubles flight must finish first or second at its Regional, and the No. 1 singles player from that team also must have qualified for the Finals individually by finishing first or second in Regional play.

On the soccer pitch, two officiating-related changes will be especially noticeable. Officials now may stop the clock to check on an injured player without that player being required to leave the match – previously that player would have to sub out. Also, categories for fouls have been redefined: careless (which is a foul but does not receive a card), reckless (a foul with a yellow card) and excessive force (foul with red card). 

The 2023-24 Spring campaign culminates with postseason tournaments, as the championship schedule begins with the Upper Peninsula Girls & Boys Golf and Boys Tennis Finals during the week of May 27 and wraps up with Girls Soccer, Baseball and Softball Finals on June 15. Here is a complete list of winter tournament dates:

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regional Semifinals – June 5
Regional Finals, Quarterfinals – June 8
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Boys Regionals – May 28-June 1
UP Girls & Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Boys Finals – June 7-8

Boys Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 10-15
Regionals – May 16-29
Quarterfinals – May 31 or June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 8

Girls Lacrosse
Pre-Regionals – May 16-18, or May 20
Regionals – May 22-June 1
Semifinals – June 5
Finals – June 7

Girls Soccer
Districts – May 22-June 1
Regionals – June 4-8
Semifinals – June 11-12
Finals – June 14-15

Districts – May 23-June 1
Regionals – June 8
Quarterfinals – June 11
Semifinals – June 13-14
Finals – June 15

LP Girls Regionals – May 15-18
UP Boys Finals – May 29, 30, 31 or June 1
LP Girls Finals – May 31-June 1

Track & Field
Regionals – May 16-18
Finals – June 1