By Ryan Kaczmarski
With the season the Westlake Demons varsity baseball team had last spring, winning the Southwestern Conference and going all the way to the Division I state championship game, one might have thought head coach Jeff Short would reconsider his plan to retire after the postseason. But Short stuck with his decision, leaving a vacancy at the top of the program.
The coaching vacancy has been filled, by one of Westlake’s own, with the promotion of longtime Westlake High School varsity assistant coach Brendan Zepp to varsity head coach.
“While being the assistant coach for the past 10 years, I enjoyed working with Coach Short and the rest of the staff and felt that we worked great as a unit,” Zepp said. “Each coach knew their role within the group.
“Once Coach Short announced to the staff that he was planning to retire, my wife (Heather) and I gave (the head coaching position) a lot of thought,” he added. “I feel privileged to coach what I feel is one of the premier high school baseball programs in northeastern Ohio. As a teacher at Westlake High School, I am excited to have the opportunity to work with students on the field and in the classroom.”
Zepp is not replacing just any coach. Short is an Ohio high school coaching legend and a member of the Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“Coach Short and I are very close friends,” Zepp said. “During a recent visit, I joked with him about not putting any pressure on me. He decided to end his career with the most wins in school history in a single season and a trip to the Division I state finals.
“While many may see that as cause for nerves, I look at it as a great opportunity,” he added. “Last year’s team set the standard for what Westlake baseball is going to aspire for each year. Each team will want to be as good as that team and also see that getting to state is possible.
“I have learned so many things on and off the field with (Short) over the coarse of 10 years,” Zepp continued. “I could have not asked for a better mentor.”
Zepp’s style of coaching will not differ much from the coaching philosophy the returning players are accustomed to playing.
“Coach Short and I share many of the same philosophies when it comes to the game of baseball,” Zepp stated. “As his assistant coach, over the past six years, we have worked together to adapt different styles for the type of team(s) that we coached.
“As a team, we will continue to stress the importance of strong defense, smart approaches at the plate and communication,” he added. “Offensively, I hope to install a more aggressive approach at the plate and on the base paths.”
Zepp interviewed for the position in early May, and upon completion of the magical 2012 season, Tony Cipollone (Westlake High School director of athletics) informed Zepp that he would like him to take over the program.
“Brendan Zepp has the character that we look for in a head coach,” Cipollone said in a press release. “He has earned the respect of the players and his fellow coaches during his time as an assistant, and really cares about the students of Westlake on all levels.
“The program is in good shape and the consistency that he brings was important to continue to build on the success of Coach Short’s tenure,” Cipollone added. “I am positive that Coach Zepp’s energy and excitement for this job will allow our baseball program to continue to be the consistent winner that we expect.”
Even though a large number of the varsity team graduated this summer, Zepp has no worries about the strength of the program, in both the immediate and long-term future.
“I am lucky to coach baseball in a city like Westlake,” he said. “We have a very active (youth) recreation and travel program that does a tremendous job developing the young baseball players.
“While we have graduated many, we will have five returning lettermen,” he added. “With such a large senior class, many quality players had to play junior varsity to make sure they would be sharp for next season. I also hope that the younger players learned from watching last year’s team that anything is possible with hard work and determination.”
The coaching addition that affects the Demons right away is the hiring of former Olmsted Falls High School and Cleveland State University standout Meghan Mental as the varsity volleyball head coach.
“I am very excited to have the opportunity to be a head varsity coach,” Mental said. “I honestly could not have asked for more.
“The kids and the parents have been great, and the players are working very hard this summer, which has made it a very good situation.”
The former All-Southwestern Conference and All-District honoree for the Bulldogs was also a four-year letter winner and a two-year starter for CSU, and was named team captain in 2011. Most recently, she was the junior varsity head coach at Elyria High School and a club coach for the Cleveland Volleyball Company.
“I am a very enthusiastic and passionate coach,” she said. “If we are disciplined, work hard and stay focused every day in practice and games, we have the chance to be in the upper third of the conference this year.”
Mental will be the third head volleyball coach in as many years for the Demons, but she hopes to bring some stability to the program.
“I plan on taking what the past coaches have developed and try to take it to the next level,” she stated. “That would include working with the youth program all the way up to the varsity team.”
The Demons volleyball team will open conference play against Olmsted Falls at home at 7 p.m. Aug. 30; but Mental is not worried about coaching against her former coach and mentor, Olmsted Falls’ head coach Dawn Moses.
“Of course I am very excited to compete with one of the top teams in the league and in the Cleveland area,” she said. “It is a great opportunity for both me and the girls.
“Dawn Moses is a very successful veteran coach and has done a tremendous job making (Olmsted Falls) a contender for the league (title),” Mental continued. “I can only hope that with what (Moses) has taught and instilled in me, I would be able to accomplish the same here at Westlake.”