Fall High School Sports Preview

LHS Volleyball Head Coach Maggi Szczepaniak speaks to team during a five set scrimmage win over Firelands.    

It’s back to school time, which also means that the local high school sports season is upon us. Here is a look at some of the teams that will compete this fall.


The Lakewood boys and girls cross country teams return to action at the Southwestern Conference Preview at LCCC on August 26. Both teams will have a lot of new faces in their starting lineups, as many of last year’s top runners have graduated. Both squads have added two brand new events to their schedule: the Oberlin Invite on September 2 and the Trucker Invite September 23 in Norwalk. “I like change” boys Head Coach Stepanie Toole said about the new meets. 

The boys team is looking to defend its 2016 conference championship, the first won by any LHS team in the school’s new league. Only two of last year’s seven top runners are back this year, but Toole feels good about her team. “They had a solid summer…..our captains did a great job,” she said. Joey Toole and Joe Burtzlaff are the returners from last year, and will be among the top three runners on this team. They are joined in the top three by sophomore Cormac Peppard-Kramer, who joins the team after a solid freshman year running distance track.  Competition for the 4-7 spots has been close, but there are lots of good young runners on the roster. Coach Toole hopes to defend the conference title, and also for the team to advance to OHSAA regionals as a team.

The girls team also lost a lot of runners to graduation. Head Coach Danielle Hammond is pleased with her team’s offseason preparation. “The kids are working hard and looking forward to the season,” she said after a recent practice. Like the boys, the team will compete in two new meets. “We’re excited to race at Oberlin and Norwalk,” said Hammond. The team graduated many of last year’s top seven runners, but veterans Jinn Feng and Abby Laform will return. Hammond says her goal is to advance runners to the OHSAA regional meet in late October.


LHS boys and girls soccer returns to the pitch this fall for another season in the tough Southwestern Conference, which includes traditional powers such as Westlake, Avon, and Olmsted Falls. The boys will open first, facing Valley Forge on August 18 at Byers Field. This will be the first-ever Friday night game in the history of the program.

“This is the most excited I’ve been in eleven years,” said boys Head Coach Andrew Toth. His team opened its training camp with a midnight practice, which started one minute after the OHSAA practice period officially began. The practice was labeled “first in, last out,” reflecting the determination of this year’s squad. A large senior class is a strength of the team, which has been working very hard all camp. “We embrace the grind,” Toth says of his team, which expects to contend for the SWC title. Their first conference matchup will be at home against Amherst on August 23rd. The schedule includes high-caliber nonconference opponents.  The annual “Community Cup” game with the Eagles will be at St. Edward on September 23rd; the regular season-ending “Riverwood Cup” game will be at Rocky River on October 14. When asked what his players must do to reach their goals, Toth said, “They need to trust each other.”

Head Coach Roman Hubach returns for his second season with the LHS girls team. The team  lost key players to graduation, including goalkeeper Rachel Lowell and leading scorer Halle Krebs. The Rangers will be very young, but have a talented freshman class. “Being so young, we will need to gain and play with confidence and composure,” says Hubach. The team faces a tough schedule, including a home nonconference matchup with nearby St. Joseph Academy on September 16. Hubach expects the program to grow into a conference and playoff contender. “My objective for this season is to make this season the start of a long running winning tradition for the girls soccer program at Lakewood High School.”


New head coach Emil Haitonic leads the Eagle soccer team into the 2017 season. The team held an overnight camp recently to help build team chemistry. “[It] gave us the opportunity to strengthen the relations between the team players, as well the relations between coaches and players,” said Haitonic. The new coach is a former professional player with extensive experience in sports and youth development. He describes his style as “a mix of tradition and innovation.”

Haitonic has a young roster, but likes his players. “The team has high potential. Players are talented, strong willed with a passion for the game,” he says. Discipline and hard work will be the key to building the team in this first season. “Excellence is not a singular act but a habit,” he says. The Eagles face a tough schedule, which will be highlighted by its annual rivalry games. They host Lakewood for the “Community Cup” on September 23rd. They travel to Ohio City on September 13 to face defending state champion St. Ignatius in a highly anticipated matchup.


Head Coach Maggi Szczepaniak enters her second season at the helm of the Rangers, who lost many key players to graduation. The coaching staff also includes Kelli Lamberti, Grayson  Szczepaniak, and freshman coach Lindsay Field. The team returns only one senior, Tori Donegan. Despite losing much of its height and experience to graduation, Coach Maggi sees bright spots. “Our front row isn’t as tall as most teams, but our girls can jump!” she says. “Our team this year has a very strong defense. Our back row is quick and accurate.”

The Rangers home schedule begins August 22 against Amherst. They face a tough SWC schedule, as well as nonconference road matchups with VASJ and St. Vincent-St. Mary. “Our goal every year is to improve and work toward Columbus,” coach says. The program has already made strides in increasing its numbers, with higher turnouts this year. In addition, Coach Maggi launched the new Junior Ranger Volleyball League in July. It had four teams of 4th-6th graders, and will be key to improving the high school program in future years.

Mike Deneen

Mike Deneen has extensive experience covering sports and community stories for the Lakewood Observer. Mike has been a Senior Industry Analyst for the Freedonia Group in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1998. He has appeared on CNBC’s Closing Bell, NPR’s MarketPlace and has been quoted multiple times in The Wall Street Journal. He has made multiple guest appearances on ESPN Cleveland radio. Mike also writes for Inside Northwestern, a website that covers Northwestern Wildcat Athletics. You can reach him on Twitter at @MikeDeneen1 

Read More on Sports
Volume 13, Issue 16, Posted 6:15 PM, 08.15.2017