NEGAUNEE - A shortened season is the least of Negaunee tennis player Parker Bowman's worries this spring.
The Miners sophomore joined 11 teammates in winning all their varsity matches in a high school boys meet at home against Ishpeming on Friday afternoon.
He defeated Hematites junior Thomas Bleau, 6-1, 6-1 as Negaunee pulled off an 8-0 victory to improve to 4-0-1 this spring.
Neguanee High School's Parker Bowman serves to his Ishpeming High School opponent Friday, May 9, 2014 at the NHS tennis courts. (Journal photo by Steve Brownlee)
But Bowman has taken on a big task this season, taking over the No. 1 singles position that has been occupied by the likes of Cody Tossava and David Terzaghi the past three years, each an Upper Peninsula championship or runner-up season for the Miners.
Bowman wasn't exactly groomed for this position. In fact, last year, he was one of the Miners' No. 4 doubles players, a spot about a half-step ahead of playing on the JV with a team as large as Negaunee's.
But Negaunee coach Kyle Saari didn't hand the tall, lanky sophomore this lofty position. Bowman earned it during intrasquad matches where he beat all of his other teammates who play singles.
"I was supposed to be the No. 3 or No. 4 singles player, but when we had challenge matches, I beat the No. 2 and the No. 1 guys," he said.
Saari says he really isn't that shocked at Bowman's move up the ranks.
"Yes, he's our biggest surprise, because you always assume everybody's going to move up one spot each year," he said.
"But there always seems to be somebody who makes a big jump because they put the time and hard work in to improve their game.
"And that's Parker this year.
"He's consistent and he's long. He just told me today after the first set, 'Coach, I know what I'm doing.'
"That's a heady thing for a sophomore in his position to say," Saari added.
"He's also realizing your game doesn't have to look pretty to be effective and to win out there."
Bowman credits an improved serve as the single most important factor in his improvement.
"But the backhand is still my weakness," he added.
"Last summer, I played a lot. I played with my friends when we would set up little mini-tournaments."
The road still has been bumpy this spring, as Bowman lost his first three matches to players from Kingsford, Gwinn and Marquette.
But he has won twice in the past two days, also beating an Escanaba player on Thursday, to nearly reach the .500 mark for the season.
And that pleases Saari.
"My goal is for each player is to get better each day," the coach said. "And I think that's something we've done this week in the four matches we've played, especially with all the youth and inexperience we have."
Friday's closest match came at No. 1 doubles, where Negaunee seniors Doug Lindblom and Michael Anderson held off Ishpeming senior Tony Gravedoni and junior Josh Penrose, 6-2, 6-4.
"I'm just trying to get the ball over the net as much as I can," Gravedoni said in response to the shortened practice time this spring.
Negaunee's other seven flights lost just a half-dozen games between them, with all the No. 3 and 4 flights ending 6-0, 6-0.
"We're at the point where we have to work on things during matches," IHS coach Erl Langness said. "We just haven't had much time outside yet.
"It's toughest on the some of the beginners. You end up having to go back to the basics, things like foot placement and which side you're serving on."
Players like Negaunee's Ryan Syrjala, the No. 2 singles player, think lots of practice time outside the season will pay off in a spring like this one.
"If you work on your skills during the summer, that should still help during the season," said the junior, who also stars in football and hockey for the MIners the rest of the school year.
"Plus a couple of us got some work in this winter at the U.P. SportsPlex in Marquette."
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.