ISHPEMING - The two high school boys tennis teams that met in Ishpeming on Tuesday afternoon were coming from opposite ends of the spectrum.
Negaunee needed barely a half hour to win the match 8-0, dropping just four games in the 16 sets played at the Ishpeming Playgrounds.
As one of the strongest teams in the Upper Peninsula, the Miners return 10 of the 12 varsity players from a team that won the MHSAA U.P. Division 1 title last spring.
Negaunee’s No. 1 singles player David Terzaghl runs to return the ball against Ishpeming’s No. 1 singles Tony Grevdoni during a match on Tuesday at the Ishpeming Playgrounds. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Singles looks especially daunting for opponents, since all four regulars return in the same position this season after each of those boys made their respective championship match at the U.P. finals a year ago.
"We know we have a very large target on our backs," NHS coach Kyle Saari said. "But our goal is just to get better every day.
"This is our first match, and we're just glad to see some different faces across the net (from practice)."
Meanwhile, Ishpeming, a solid Division 2 team a year ago, has just three boys back who have any varsity playing experience. And a roster of 17 players includes just one senior and two juniors, according to coach Erl Langness.
"Our guys just have to get some court experience," Langness said. "By the end of the year we should be much improved.
"We'll take our lumps early, but unlike a sport such as basketball, you get an awful lot of playing time rather than sitting on the bench, so your chances of improving can come awfully quickly."
He added that some natural athletes who pick up a new sport and excel in it quickly might have to learn some patience on the tennis court.
Ticking off the names of players, the majority have been on the Hematites' football, basketball or wrestling teams - in some cases all three - while others have participated in hockey and even bowling.
"So much of the sport takes repetition," Langness said about tennis. "The hardest thing right now for our inexperienced players is learning to get the ball in. They can get to the ball and they can hit it, but you have to keep it in play for any of that to matter."
Some of Negaunee's players don't have much rust to shake off, since they've played fairly regularly throughout the winter.
"We went up to (Michigan) Tech over the winter along with a few other players and played on their indoor courts," said senior Nick Kill, referring to himself and No. 1 doubles partner Lucas Christianson, who were runners-up at the U.P. finals last year.
Asked if they played in any competitive matches, even informal ones, Christianson said they hadn't.
"We just didn't want to lose what we had developed over last season and in the summer," said Christianson, also a senior.
The Miners' other three doubles teams each featured one U.P. finals top-four finisher from last spring - Austin Rice at No. 2, Cody McGrath at No. 3 and Tyler Beaumont at No. 4.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.