After watching her team win just one game in her first season in 2017, Westland High School softball coach Sarah Shellenbarger saw marked improvement this spring.
The Cougars finished 4-16 overall, and Shellenbarger said the team's future looks bright with several key players expected to return.
"We didn't meet my expectations because I wanted to get a few league wins and get their confidence going, but these girls have grown since day one, so that's all I can ask for," Shellenbarger said. "They put in hard work, they were always at practice (and) 99 percent of the time they gave me their all. This was a great group of girls."
Seeded 43rd for the Division I district tournament, Westland lost at 15th-seeded Mount Vernon 21-0 in five innings in the first round May 7.
The Cougars lose four players to graduation, including four-year starters Nicole Salyer (C/3B) and Emily Spohn (P/CF).
Spohn saw most of the time in the circle, but also played center field to help boost the outfield defense. She batted .476 with a team-high 30 hits, six doubles and two home runs and was named first-team all-OCC-Central Division.
"I enjoyed this year," said Spohn, who will play at Ohio University-Chillicothe. "There were a lot of incoming freshmen and it was fun to get them involved and help them grow as a team. I can't wait to see what they look like next year."
Salyer batted .364 with seven RBI and was second-team all-league. Senior Emily Smith (1B/OF) was honorable mention all-league, freshman Kayla Miller (P/SS) batted .429 with 21 hits and five doubles and sophomore Sydnee Avila (OF/3B) batted .340 and led the team with eight RBI.
Other players eligible to return are juniors Shaela Clark (2B) and Savannah Spence (OF), sophomores Destiny Fout (OF) and Bailey Garner (OF/2B) and freshmen Madison Bennett (OF), Marissa Edington (OF), Tiffany Hunter (OF), Melina Morley (C/3B), Alyssa Mullet (OF), Fernanda Rojas (2B/1B/OF) and Haley Starkey (C/1B/OF).
Westland went 0-10 in the OCC-Central to finish sixth behind Marysville (10-0), Central Crossing (8-2), Upper Arlington (6-4), Dublin Coffman (4-6) and Hilliard Davidson (2-8).
"The season has come to a close and our seniors are moving on to the next chapter, and that's one of the most important things as a coach," Shellenbarger said. "It's giving them the skills and the utensils that they're going to need in the next chapter of life. Softball is more than just a game, it's more life skills that they can take off the field and utilize in their personal lives."
Track teams close season at district
While disappointed his teams didn't qualify any athletes for the Division I regional meet, track and field coach Tim Eckard was pleased with their effort this season.
The Cougars closed their season at district, which concluded May 19 at Hilliard Darby.
"I always want the season to end in June so we get someone to the state track meet," Eckard said. "When we don't, it's definitely bothersome. ... The seniors were good to work with. They provided us lots of good leadership. They were hard workers."
Competing in the district 3 meet, junior Abdi Aden led the boys team by finishing seventh in the 300-meter hurdles (42.03 seconds) and eighth in the long jump (19 feet, 11 inches).
Senior Trent Bott finished seventh in the shot put (44-11 1/2). He will play football at Findlay.
Junior Kevin Reyes, sophomore Manuel Rojas and freshmen Abubakar Aden and Christian Placencia finished ninth in the 3,200 relay (9:43.14).
Westland finished last (5 points) of 14 teams behind champion Olentangy Orange (133), as the top four finishers in each event advanced to regional.
In the OCC-Central meet, which was held May 10 and 12 at Coffman, the Cougars finished sixth (15) behind Davidson (159), UA (117), Coffman (105), Marysville (72) and Central Crossing (53).
Abdi Aden was second in the 300 hurdles (41.58) and sixth in the high jump (5-8), seniors Marcus Jones and Levi Rains, junior Isaiah Dukes and sophomore Kyle West were fourth in the 400 relay (45.0) and Dukes, Jones, West and senior Matt Bailey were fifth in the 800 relay (1:34.51).
Sophomore Shaun Fannin was seventh in the long jump (18-7 3/4).
Other key athletes eligible to return include juniors Caleb McManaway (throws), Andrew Sherman (throws) and Arty Washington (sprints).
Seniors Stephanie Buruca and Kaela Ponce and juniors Vicky Barete and Aja Nathans accounted for the girls team's two points in the district 2 meet, as they finished seventh in the 3,200 relay (11:15.35).
Ponce was 11th in the 800 (2:31.91).
Westland finished 15th of 16 teams behind champion Gahanna (164).
The Cougars finished fifth (6) in the OCC-Central meet behind Davidson (201), UA (124), Coffman (108) and Marysville (78) and ahead of Central Crossing (4).
Buruca, Ponce, Barete and Nathans were fifth in the 3,200 relay (11:19.86), juniors Litzy Lopez and Arryanna Reed, sophomore Jemiere Wyatt and freshman Brenna Gilliam were fifth in the 400 relay (58.2) and Barete, Buruca, Ponce and freshman Lisette Sevilla were fifth in the 1,600 relay (4:53.52).
Other key athletes eligible to return include sophomores Bre Bostic (sprints), Laura Ornelas (throws) and Olivia Schumacher (throws).
Baseball, wrestling coaches step down
Athletics director Mike George announced that baseball coach Neil Bittel and wrestling coach Mark Niemann have resigned.
Bittel, who coached the Cougars for four seasons, stepped down to accept an intervention specialist position at Thomas Worthington, where he also will teach math.
"The past five years spent at Westland have taught me a lot about myself as an educator and as a coach," Bittel said. "I really enjoyed coaching the players and watching them grow into young men over the years.
"I believe we made a lot of progress as a program during my tenure, and although we did not reach all of our goals when you look at the records, I think I have had a positive impact on the students at Westland, both on and off the field."
Under Bittel, Westland finished 17-87. The Cougars went 4-20 overall and 0-15 in the OCC-Central this season.
"Coach Bittel was a class act on and off the baseball field," George said. "He worked extremely hard with the kids (and) was an excellent fundraiser. He raised a lot of money to put into the field. ... He was dedicated to the kids and the baseball program."
Niemann stepped down after one season to help support his ailing father, Rich, who died May 9.
Under Niemann, Westland qualified three wrestlers for the Division I district tournament but went 0-5 in the OCC-Central.
"Coach Niemann is a great guy who loves the sport of wrestling, loves to compete, but at the end of the day, family comes first," George said. "Due to his father's illness, that was distracting him and here at Westland we're all about family first. We wish him the best and the best for his family."