Prep tennis: Esky overcomes improved Braves

GLADSTONE – The Escanaba Eskymos knew their Gladstone counterparts would be ready, having had weeks to improve and playing on their home court.

The Eskymos came prepared and dealt the Braves a rain-shortened 5-1 tennis victory Tuesday evening, improving to 8-1 this season. Also with the victory, the Eskymos swept the season series with Gladstone, having won 7-1 a few weeks ago.

“There was improvement on both teams. You could see it,” said Esky head coach Dennis Lueneberg. “It’s not easy. After you beat someone the first time they get excited to do better. Gladstone really picked it up since the first time we played them. Their veterans are getting into the rhythm of the season and they’re playing better, which makes us play better.”

Temperatures hovered around 90 degrees on an unseasonably warm and humid day before giving away to heavy rain. Six of eight matches completed before the meet was called. It will be resumed Friday with No. 2 and 3 singles picking up where they left off.

At No. 1 singles, Escanaba’s Johanna Snowden fought off a determined Gabby Movalson. In their last meeting, Snowden dominated 6-0, 6-0 but their first set Tuesday required a tiebreaker and lots of back and forth action. Snowden met the challenge and came out on top 7-6 (7-3), 6-2.

“Gabby is playing better and to Johanna’s credit, she was prepared for that and hung in there,” said Lueneberg. “She played a good, determined match, she played the tough points and grew a little bit today as a tennis player.”

It was more of the same for Esky’s No. 1 doubles team of Olivia Berquist and Shelby Gregoire. The Eskymo teammates worked well together with Gregoire handling the returns on the back end and Berquist working the net where she got plenty of slam-dunk points. The pairing handled Melissa Casey and Paige Schwartz 6-0, 6-2 after defeating them 6-0, 6-3 back in August.

“It went pretty good, we beat them pretty well,” said Gregoire. “In that second set we were ahead and it got to 4-2, but we never died down. We stayed strong.”

Lueneberg said his doubles teams had strong performances but said there’s always room for improvement.

“Shelby can learn how to execute a few shots differently. They both like the net and they can make some progress against the better players.”

Gladstone earned a victory at No. 4 singles when Mollie Wiltzius fought off Hannah Beversluis 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. The match was Beversluis’ first at singles after playing at No. 3 and No. 4 doubles in previous matches.

“We have been getting excellent play from Mollie,” said Gladstone coach Rich Trombly. “She has improved steadily since she was inserted into the singles lineup.”

Lueneberg said it was a nice first effort for Beversluis.

“I thought Hannah did well. She’s still learning and hasn’t been playing long,” he said. “She will get better quick if she’s determined. If you saw her a month ago when she was just starting out, now she can stay in a match. It’s pretty impressive.”

Bridget Becker was in good shape at No. 3 singles, taking the first set 6-4 and leading 4-0 in the second set over Kayla VanPortfliet before the match was called. Becker had the Braves lone victory in the last meeting, defeating VanPortfliet 6-4, 6-4.

At No. 2 singles, Esky’s Anna Burch and Gladstone’s Lauren Parrett were tied at a set apiece. Parrett won the first set 6-4 and Burch took the second 6-3.

With Beversluis moving to singles, Lueneberg shuffled his doubles lineup slightly, moving Emily LaFave to No. 3 doubles with Olivia LaForest. So far, so good. The Eskymos swept doubles again. The new pairing dropped their first set against Paige Cavadeas and Carly Devet but came back for a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory.

“Emily and Olivia came back strong after losing the first set,” said Lueneberg. “As a coach you look to see how they’ll respond in that situation.”

Trombly still wasn’t seeing the effort he wants out of his doubles lineup.

“Our doubles teams are still giving away too many free points, missing shots that are not that difficult,” he said. “Until we start taking care of the shot when the ball is in our court, we will continue to struggle.”

After the completion of today’s match on Friday, Escanaba hosts Gwinn on Monday. Gladstone travels to Gwinn on Thursday.