Brent Shannon is looking to make an immediate impact in his first season as Westland High School baseball coach.
After being approved by the school board in July, Shannon held voluntary conditioning and practice sessions that were well-attended. There are 44 players in the program, up from 32 last spring.
The new era for the Cougars officially begins April 2 when they visit Grandview. They open OCC-Central Division play April 5 at Marysville.
Shannon, 24, replaced Neil Bittel, who stepped down after four seasons. Shannon was an assistant coach under Bittel last spring.
"Some of the kids don't feel the transition as hard for a new head coach because I was here last year," said Shannon, who played at Capital and is an intervention specialist at Westland. "They're responding well. We put in a lot of new stuff that maybe last year they weren't so comfortable putting in -- a lot of college detail things. We have a pretty solid team. I think we'll shock a lot of people this year."
The Cougars finished 17-87 under Bittel, including 4-20 overall and 0-15 in the OCC-Central Division last season.
The top returnee is senior Zach Monn (SS/P), who is in his fourth season on varsity and will play at Lourdes University in Sylvania. Last season, he batted .375 with a team-best 16 runs and 12 RBI and was named first-team all-league.
Also back is senior Billy Holland (OF/P), who should be a key contributor on the mound.
"We have a lot of talent this year, more than what we had last year," Holland said. "We have a bunch of freshmen who are really talented and a bunch of seniors who are really talented, too."
Other returnees are seniors Ryan Perez-Hall (OF/P/1B), Bryce Murray (CF) and Braden Schoppert (1B/OF), juniors Kyle Bowles (2B/P), Starlin DeJesus (OF/3B/P) and Nevada Swackhammer (OF/P) and sophomores Leandro Campusano (OF), Drew Curtiss (C/1B) and Brendan Gordon (2B/OF/P).
Seniors DeShawn Evans (P) and Gaige Holbrook (P) are in their first season, and Shannon expects both to contribute on the mound.
Evans will play football at Notre Dame College in South Euclid.
"I think I did pretty well recruiting some of the kids," Shannon said. "We have two new top end of the rotation pitchers in DeShawn, who is a football star at quarterback, and Gaige, who also came out and is a basketball player. Both have looked really good early on and look to be our No. 1 and No. 2 (pitchers)."
Other players are seniors J.T. Orahood (1B), Jose Rubio (2B/P), Joseph Sanchez (OF) and Bradlee Swenson (3B/OF), juniors Jackson Bell (3B), Cory Daugherty (OF) and Trey Holmes (OF), sophomores Jason Cooper (OF) and Jay Hambric (1B) and freshmen Brady Gray (C/P/3B), Trent Jude (SS/P), Tyler Jude (OF/P), Franklin Ramirez (3B/P) and Blake Schoonover (C/1B/3B).
Softball squad seeks improvement
Third-year softball coach Sarah Shellenbarger is hoping her team can improve on its 4-16 finish from last spring.
"We want to have a better record than last year and develop a camaraderie and teamwork," Shellenbarger said. "For a lot of the girls, that's why they're here because they want to build new relationships with people that they might not normally talk to during a school day. As long as they're having fun then (that's) success for me. We all want to win and we want to be undefeated, but we also have to be realistic."
The Cougars open Friday, March 29, at home against Whitehall and begin OCC-Central play April 10 at Marysville.
Sophomore Kayla Miller (P/SS) is expected to replace 2018 graduate Emily Spohn in the circle. Last season, Miller batted .429 with five doubles.
"Kayla is great team leader and she has a great attitude," Shellenbarger said. "She has a great head on her shoulders. She knows the game and she's also willing to teach the other ones. She's a pretty solid pitcher and I only look for growth, so she is getting better."
Junior Sydnee Avila (OF/P) batted .340 and led the team with eight RBI a year ago.
Shaela Clark (P/2B), another returnee, is the only senior.
"Coach pushes us and makes us work hard, so that is benefiting us," Clark said. "We've definitely gotten better since my freshman year. We have to stay positive and not give up if we make a bad play."
Other returnees are junior Bailey Garner (SS/2B/OF) and sophomores Marissa Edington (OF), Melina Morley (C/3B/1B), Alyssa Mullet (OF), Fernanda Rojas (1B/OF) and Haley Starkey (1B/C).
"The girls who keep coming back are the ones that are willing to work and willing to put in the effort," Shellenbarger said. "We want to develop them on the field and off the field. The big thing is getting everybody on the same page. We're not there yet, but we're getting there."
Other players are juniors Lindsey Burkitt (3B/OF) and Reagan Walters (SS/3B), sophomore Grace Perry (OF) and freshmen Bella Garner (C/OF), Katie Halter (OF), Mallory Merth (3B/SS/OF) and Matilyn Rapp (3B/OF).
"We have a lot of kids who haven't played before, which I think is a great thing, but at the same time in this league, it's a challenge because we're in one of the toughest OCC divisions," Shellenbarger said.
Key losses to graduation were four-year starters Spohn (P/C) and Nicole Salyer (C/3B).
Last season, Spohn batted .476 with a team-high 30 hits, six doubles and two home runs and was named first-team all-league. Salyer batted .364 with seven RBI and was second-team all-league.
Below are the coming schedules for the Westland softball and track & field teams:
March 29 -- Home vs. Whitehall
March 30 -- At Canal Winchester
TRACK & FIELD
March 30 -- Newark Invitational