New coaches hope to lead baseball back to prominence
By Michael Krieger
The most notable change for the Rossford varsity baseball team coming into the 2015 season is an entirely new coaching staff.
Head Coach Paul Laplante begins his first season at the helm of the Bulldogs with high hopes and a lot of confidence that he can turn around the once proud program.
Last year’s team went 8-18, and RHS hasn’t experienced a winning season since the mid-1990s.
Laplante, who is also in his first year of varsity baseball experience, will be joined by assistant coaches Tom Keller, Shadd Ellison and Doug Sauter, who will serve as the JV coach.
While Laplante has never coached varsity baseball before, he and his staff have generated a strong resume of coaching winning teams at all levels of youth travel ball for several years.
He also serves as the resource officer for Maumee High School, which allows him to work closely with high school students.
Laplante admits that players and fans will be shown a different approach to running the team.
He expects his teams to give maximum effort at all times.
“So far, the team has responded well, in practices, warm-ups and in the mental part of the game–it’s all been very good,” Laplante said.
While his approach might be different from what the varsity team has been used to in recent years, he believes it is necessary to put the team regularly back in the winning column.
“There have been a lot of changes, but there has also been a lot of learning,” said Laplante, who emphasizes taking time to teach the players the game and finding what works best for each player.
“One way to do this is to give players a lot of individual attention,” the coach explained.
Individual attention is achieved by working with players in small groups and focusing on just four skills at one practice.
Then he introduces new skills at the next practice before repeating the original four at the next.
“That way kids are always being taught new skills and always being challenged,” he added.
The 2015 Bulldogs will feature just two returning seniors: Nick Skiba and Keaton Eppink. Both will contribute mostly as pitchers.
Other key returners with varsity experience are second baseman Spenser Shultz and pitcher Ben Sauter.
The rest of the team is young, mostly sophomores and juniors with little or no varsity experience.
Laplante contends that what this group lacks in experience, they make up for in athleticism.
“Once they learn the speed of the varsity game, they will be fine,” Laplante said, adding that he sees their youth as an advantage while the Bulldogs build the program for the future.
Laplante isn’t promising any championships right now, but he believes the future looks bright for these athletic and enthusiastic players.
The first step he has established is to be competitive against every team the Bulldogs face this season.
The season opened March 30 at home with a loss to a talented Wauseon team, 11-3.
RHS softball looks to answer ‘unknowns’
By Michael Krieger
With five returning varsity players, and seven seniors on the roster, the 2015 Rossford softball team is a realistic challenger for the Northern Buckeye Conference championship.
“Elmwood is probably the best in the league right now,” predicted Head Coach Tom Kralovic, in his 16th season at the helm of the program. “They have the most players back and the most talent, but we should be right there.”
Last year’s squad won more than 20 games in the season and finished third in the NBC before making a tournament run that saw Rossford win a sectional championship before losing in the district semifinals.
To build off that success and achieve this season’s aspirations, the Lady Bulldogs will need to answer what Kralovic refers to as “unknowns.”
The biggest question, he believes, comes from hitting.
“We have a lot of unknowns. We need to replace a lot of hitting,” he said, referring to last year’s host of sluggers: Margo Jackson, Kelly Swope, Maddie York, and Lyndsey Skala.
Jackson now plays at Urbana University and Swope at Owens Community College.
Kralovic realizes that those girls will be hard to replace, but he is optimistic with the talent returning.
“If the girls can hit, and get timely hits, we should be solid,” he explained, adding that every year someone steps up and produces as a hitter.
“It’s a just a matter of playing games to figure out who that is going to be. Last year it was Kirsten (Keller). This year, I’m not sure yet.”
Despite his concerns about hitting, Kralovic does not question his team’s ability defensively.
Strong fielding should be the team’s hallmark with the return of many players who have varsity experience in addition to some talented underclassmen.
Senior Kirsten Keller will play third base and will be relied upon to lead the infield to take some pressure off hard-working first-year sophomore catcher, Alayna Kitzler.
Kitzler will replace Jackson behind the plate, and even though she has big shoes to fill, has so far been up to the task with her effort.
Senior Maggie Leahy will move from second to shortstop this season and presents a strong glove in the middle of the infield.
Second base responsibilities will go to senior Karly Durco, whom Kralovic said is the real surprise of pre-season practices, although this will be her first season at the varsity level.
Rounding out the infield will likely be junior Cheyenne Davis, who takes over at first base, where she will be a tall target, and should provide some key hitting.
The outfield should feature seniors Claire Verbosky in center, Jessica Kulczak in left, and Nicole Beyer in right.
Junior Tiffany King will serve in a utility capacity but should see time in the outfield and infield and be a capable hitter.
Rossford is expected to once again be strong on the mound with most of the pitching workload falling on the shoulders of senior three-year letter winner Hannah Gauthier.
Junior Heather Schaller will pitch a fair number of innings as well and has shown considerable improvement, according to Kralovic.
The team opened the season at home with games March 30 against Wauseon and April 1 against Evergreen. On April 3, they traveled to Lakota.
RHS tennis serves up new season
By Michael Krieger
The Rossford High School boys tennis team has experience at key positions that should allow them to compete for the school’s first league title in the sport.
According to Head Coach Oliver Goss, the team has a lot of tennis experience at the singles spots and should be able to compete in every match they play.
Goss, who previously served as assistant coach for two years, assumes the role of head coach for the first time.
The team returns four key players from last year’s squad.
Seniors Derek Krieger and Logan Fairbanks, both four-year varsity players, return at first and second singles respectively.
Sophomore Logan Gauthier should have a larger role this year mostly playing third singles, and senior Evan Austin returns to form one half of the first doubles team.
Admittedly, Goss believes that doubles will be a question mark for the team.
Beyond the four returners, the Bulldogs have many players with little or no tennis experience, so the first order of business will be to develop some chemistry to see who will emerge for doubles teams.
“They are great kids, though,” Goss said. “The nice thing for me as a coach is that they all have the desire to play. They are all interested in playing tennis, and they are interested in getting better.”
The Bulldogs will compete for a league title for the first time since leaving the Northern Lakes League. For the past four years they have been independent since tennis is not a recognized sport in the Northern Buckeye Conference.
But this season, Rossford has an arrangement to compete against Wauseon, Archbold, and Bryan from the Northwest Ohio Athletic League (NWOAL) to form a four-team league.
“Our goal is to win the end-of-the-year league tournament,” said Goss, and he believes the talent on his team makes that goal very realistic.
Last year Krieger was a district qualifier after earning the number one seed at sectional, and Goss sees a possible return for him.
“Derek could definitely be seeded by the end of the season and could make a run at state,” the coach explained.
He also sees Fairbanks as a strong candidate to make a tournament run with the way he is playing right now.
“So far our singles have been fun to watch. They can really put together points,” Goss added.
Rossford opened its season April 1 with a 4-1 victory over Oak Harbor. They followed that up with another home win April 3 over Napoleon 3-2.
RHS track relies on Clay, improved boys team
By Michael Krieger
Wet spring weather so far has hampered the start of the Rossford varsity track season. The team finally opened their 2015 campaign April 10 with their first ever trip to the Evergreen Invitational.
Head Coach Todd Eckel intended to use the meet as a way to gauge the Bulldogs’ readiness for the new season, in which the boys and girls squads look to build off some success last year.
Even though both finished in the lower half of league standings last season, they produced strong individual performances. Many of those runners are back, although the girls team suffered some key losses to graduation.
The Lady Bulldogs will look to find replacements for Jessica Pietrasz and Shelbi Redway–members of the state qualifying 4x200m relay team. Pietrasz, in fact, has continued her career at Youngstown State.
“Those are some big points to make up for,” Eckel said. “They will be hard to replace.”
The good news for the girls is that one of the area’s most exciting track athletes, Regan Clay returns and will be counted on to generate much of the team points.
“She has the kind of ability to be a league champ in three or four events on her own,” the coach noted.
While just a sophomore, Clay will look to build off a sensational freshman season that saw her crowned the Northern Buckeye Championship Female Athlete of the Year en route to league championships and a record-breaking performance in the 200m and the 400m.
She also served as anchor of the 4x200m relay team that went to state. Clay actually qualified for state in three events, most notably a third place finish in the 400m.
While Eckel knows that he has individuals who can drive the team toward its goals this year, he also is aware that it might be difficult to put together relay teams.
Clay will be joined by Taylor Stolar, the fourth member of the state qualifying 4x200m relay team, but the search is on for two more girls to round out that team.
Senior Evlyn Ohms, an athlete who has paid her dues, could step into an expanded role, along with sophomore Natalie Campbell, alternate for the state team.
The coach believes the boys team, however, should improve considerably.
“We could have a solid team,” Eckel said. “We return a lot of boys and have gained some good athletes.”
They are particularly deep in the throwing events. Senior Nate Childress, the current record holder in discus, was a regional qualifier last year, and looks to break his own school record in the discus. But he also could challenge the school record in the shot put as well.
Seniors John Pupik and Cody Igo should provide some additional scoring in these events along with some team leadership.
In the running events, the Bulldogs boast the return of sophomore Greg Nawrocki in the 1600m, who demonstrated some maturity as a freshman, placing at league and turning in another competitive race at districts.
He will be pushed by hard-working freshman Jake Pietrasz, brother of Jessica, in the distance races.
The team will not be short on speed either with the improvement of junior Chase Baney in the individual sprint events and sophomore Reed Jackson returning in the hurdles.
Plus, the Bulldogs added athletes Erik Davis and Matthew Fuerst.
They are running track for the first time, but have established their athleticism in other sports; Davis in football, basketball and baseball; Fuerst in soccer and basketball. Both could contribute immediately as sprinters and Davis will get a look in the hurdles at least early on.
“Right now, the team is kind of untested,” Eckel acknowledged. “But it will be exciting to see which individuals step up.”
With the addition of some proven runners and the promise of new Bulldogs in significant roles, the Rossford track team looks at many ways to achieve success this season.