From tee ball to varsity softball, Casey Zepernick has done it all and doesn’t plan on stopping playing her favorite sport anytime soon.
“When I compete in softball, it’s my oasis. For an hour and a half, I have time to myself and to play the game I love,” Zepernick said
Varsity softball coach Kristie Savino says Zepernick is an impact player on her team. She can count on her three-year varsity starting shortstop when the game is on the line.
“Casey contributes many attributes to the team. I can always count on her to get a hit and get on base. The last three games she has had three homeruns! She also plays stealer defensive. If the ball is hit to her, I can usually count on an out. She also contributes overall knowledge of the game. She always knows where the plays are on the field,” Savino said.
Zepernick began playing when she was five. She says while she had some natural talent, she worked hard to get where she is today.
“I have played softball year round for four years. I go to batting cages and throw outside of practices. Softball is a hard sport, you have to be willing to put a lot of time and effort into it,” Zepernick said.
That hard work has paid off, on and off the field. This year, she was elected team captain.
“She is a strong softball player that the other girls look up to. Every day we have a game, she is in charge of warming the girls up and then takes the team out to the outfield and gives a motivation pep talk to start us off! She has done a great job leading the team this year,” Savino said.
That pre-game warm up may lead to Zepernick’s future. She says she hopes to one day be a softball coach.
Congratulations to Casey Zepernick, one of the April Athletes of the Month.
While it may be his first year as a starter on the varsity boy’s lacrosse team, Coach Alan Hemler says goalie Owen Eckerle is a “major factor” in the team’s success this season.
“Owen keeps our team in games and is a major factor in all of our victories this season. He has had multiple 20+ save games this season that have allowed us to remain competitive with our opponents late in games. He is also a vocal leader of the defense and helps get offensive transition started with his clearing passes,” Hemler said.
Being in the goal for Oakwood High School isn’t new to the Eckerle family. Owen followed his two older brothers to that position. He started playing lacrosse in the fifth grade. He also has played soccer and basketball and ran cross country, but it’s lacrosse he’s stuck with.
“It's simply because I love lacrosse and the team,” Eckerle said.
Beyond making saves, Eckerle is also a team leader.
“I always keep a positive attitude and I try to keep my teammates positive as well,” Eckerle said.
Coach Hemler agrees.
“Owen is a great kid who constantly demonstrates great sportsmanship, attitude and leadership. He plays the game the right way and is a great teammate,” Hemler said.
Congratulations to Owen Eckerle, an April Athlete of the Month.
While he is fairly new to high school tennis, one of this month’s OHS Athletes of the Month makes an impact on his teammates and his opponents alike.
“Michael (O’Hara) is positive and always shows respect and perseverance, making it easy for all teammates to look up to him,” Varsity Boys’ Tennis Coach Kim Gilbert said.
O’Hara says he started playing tennis his sophomore year after friends Sam Lahmon and Ryan Clark convinced him to try out and he’s “loved it ever since.” O’Hara played soccer for Oakwood High School for four years and basketball his freshman year.
“When I’m competing, I feel very focused but also excited because I want to win above all else. I also have an incredible time each time I’m on the soccer field or tennis court,” O’Hara said.
Coach Gilbert says O’Hara shares that love of competition with his teammates, serving as a leader for his team.
“He is a great senior leader, always leading by example. He is flexible with each position he plays, as well as with whom he plays. He always supports the members on the tennis team,” Gilbert said.
And while O’Hara is having “an incredible time” in games and matches, he’s also “driven” to win.
“I try to do whatever it takes to win each and every point in my tennis matches. I would say my strength in tennis is definitely my drive. During my time playing tennis, I’ve beaten many people who are more experienced and skilled than I am but I’m able to win because I know going into the match that I’ll out work them,” O’Hara said.
As a senior, O’Hara will be wrapping up his competitive sports career but sees both soccer and tennis being a part of his future.
“I definitely plan on having sports as a part of my future. I hope to play soccer for fun with friends in college, as a young adult. I would love to play tennis for many years to come. The competitive nature of the game and the fun time I have with friends will keep me invested in sports for years to come. “
Lacrosse may be a new sport for some but for one of this month’s OHS Athletes of the Month, the sport has been a part of her life for a decade. Senior Taylor Shineman, a four-year varsity player for Oakwood High School, began her lacrosse career in the third grade, playing on a boys’ team.
When she was younger, she played soccer and basketball and, briefly in junior high, tried field hockey. Ultimately, lacrosse became her primary sport.
“When I'm playing lacrosse, I feel completely engrossed in every aspect of the game. I love the strategy that goes into each play, the teamwork and constant communication that takes place on the field, and the constant challenge of pushing myself as both a player and a leader on the team,” Taylor Shineman said.
Her teammates recognize that leadership also, selecting her as team captain three years in a row. For the senior leader, lacrosse is a family affair, with her dad, Justin Shineman, serving as her coach.
“Her contributions off the field, and at practice, sometimes outshine her game performance. She's the first player to pick up balls, move goals, help the coaches and assist her teammates. She's by far the most prepared, carrying a spare of nearly everything in her bag, hair ties, tissues, leggings, everything,” Justin Shineman said.
This scholar athlete is also setting a good example off the field, maintaining a 4.0 GPA, balancing five AP courses this semester and continuing to develop her artistic abilities. In addition to designing the fall and winter sports program covers, the Class of 2019 t-shirt and student council t-shirts, she has had a work of art selected as "Top 25" in the Ohio Governor's Youth Art Exhibition for the second year in a row. Even with all of those accomplishments, it is lacrosse that brings Taylor “a sense of pride that nothing else has.”
“My participation on this team has always included the team giving something back to me, be it the honor of leading them as captain or just the joy and support of team camaraderie. That collaborative dynamic is something a lot of other activities can't provide. We win and lose as a team, and being able to be a part of the tremendous growth and success that has taken place these past few years has been incredibly rewarding,” Taylor Shineman said.
And others have taken notice of Taylor and her play with OHS.
“We had a college coach say the entire team seems to calm down and play better when Taylor has the ball. She's unselfish, knowing when to pass and feed other players, but not afraid to take over the game when it's needed,” Justin Shineman said.
After 10 years, Taylor says she doesn’t plan to give up lacrosse just yet.
“I intend to try out for a club team so I can continue to play through college. I've also discovered passion for helping and coaching others. Working as a counselor for clinics throughout high school has helped me realize lacrosse is something I can continue even if I'm not able to play on the field. I want to get involved with new or developing programs and help share this amazing sport with as many girls as possible. I also absolutely intend to come back to Oakwood and see how the team is doing here, and continue to support all of the girls who are helping this program continue to grow.”
Playing with a level of energy his coach calls “contagious,” one of this month’s Athletes of the Month is a leader on and off the basketball court. Jack Armstrong says it’s his competitiveness that keeps him going at a level few attain.
“I hate nothing more than to lose. I think that carries me to work as hard as I can while I’m playing,” Armstrong said.
Boys’ varsity basketball coach Paul Stone says Armstrong’s energy has resulted in big wins for Oakwood High School.
“Jack was subbed in as a junior last year at Eaton when our seniors were
not playing hard enough. He single handedly sparked our team to a comeback
win that was led by his tenacity and energy,” Stone said.
Armstrong has been on the court since preschool and began playing competitively for Oakwood’s travel team when he was in the fourth grade.
“I stuck with my sports throughout high school because I love to compete with my friends and enjoy being a part of a team. After high school, you won’t have these kinds of opportunities again so I think it’s good to take advantage of them while you can,” Armstrong said.
And he did take advantage of the opportunities. Along the way, he’s played football, lacrosse, soccer, baseball and wrestled. He says what he’s learned through sports are great life lessons.
“They’ve taught me the importance and rewards of hard work, given me lifelong friends, and have showed me how to deal with and overcome adversity,” Armstrong said.
Coach Stone appreciates what Armstrong has brought to the team also.
“I am proud of Jack for how much he has improved throughout the season. He brings out the best in others,” Stone said.
One of this month’s Athletes of the Month says she knows her role on the girls’ varsity basketball team and her coach agrees. As the leading rebounder, Kylie Neff is key to a strong defense for her Oakwood High School team.
“My job is to rebound, and to do it well. My role on the team is to go be physical and get as many rebounds as possible, on both ends of the court,” Neff said.
“Kylie is a relentless worker with a complimentary combination of physical strength and basketball skill,” girls’ varsity coach Matt Salyer said.
But it isn’t just aggressive defense Neff brings to the court.
“Another role I have is being a leader. Some younger girls made varsity this year, and as a junior, my role as a leader was to always make sure they felt comfortable in games and knew what to do,” Neff said.
Neff began playing basketball for the Oakwood Junior Jills when she was eight. She has also played softball and golf for OHS. She says sports give her a chance to relax.
“When I am competing, I feel very relaxed. It is a nice break to get away from school and anything else going on outside of basketball,” Neff said.
Don’t let that “relaxed” attitude fool you, Neff also describes herself as a “very competitive person" and her 17 rebounds on the road against Fenwick show she plays hard.
“I would describe my play as physical, focused and smart. Although there isn’t a ton of time on the court to think because the game happens so fast, I’m always thinking about what I’m doing and what I should do. I’m very focused on the court because when I’m playing a basketball game, the only things that matter are my team and winning.”
While she hasn’t decided how sports will fit into her future after OHS, she knows she will continue to play.
“I see my sports continuing in the future for sure. Maybe playing in college or maybe not, but I will definitely join rec teams and keep playing because I want to play basketball and softball for as long as I can.“
Swim practice may be tough but for Oakwood High School senior Mary Kidwell, it’s a time to “relax.”
“When I am swimming or competing, I feel free. Usually when I am swimming, my mind is almost blank. It is just a natural instinct at this point. Swim practice is anywhere from an hour to two hours a day where I don’t have to think, I can just relax and go,” Kidwell said.
Kidwell has spent a lot of time in the pool. She began swimming for the Oakwood Dolphins when she was four. But swimming hasn’t been her only activity, she has participated in tennis, basketball, fencing, ballet, soccer, golf, volleyball, cross country and track.
“Ever since I was young, I have loved being active. So finding an activity where I can be active while spending time with my friends is important to me. In addition, I love the feeling of being on a team and making new friends,” Kidwell said.
Kidwell say the OHS swim team is “like a second family” to her.
“Through swimming, I have become friends or come to know people I might not have known otherwise. In addition, the same thing applies to track and cross country,”
She’s also become a leader on the swim team, this year being named a captain.
“As team captain, Mary demonstrates leadership in a variety of ways. She sets positive examples at practices, cheers on her teammates through tough practices or meets, and goes above and beyond outside of the pool. She will lead the team through warm-ups and put in hours of planning on her own to make sure the year is successful for her teammates,” Swim Coach Audrey Martin said.
Kidwell has also experienced individual success, qualifying for three different state competitions.
“My junior year swim season, I competed on the 200 free relay at state in prelims and finals, hitting a personal best and close to personal best time during both races. My junior track season, I qualified individually for the state meet in the 800m. Although I did not hit a personal best at this race, I did the week prior at Regionals. In addition, going into the state race I was seated 18th (last) but finished 15th. My last highlight would be competing on the state cross country team for Oakwood. At the state meet, I placed 75th out of 177 runners, while the team placed 14th out of 20 teams,” Kidwell said.
Coach Martin says it’s not just Kidwell’s athletic success that make her a good role model but also her work ethic in the classroom.
“Mary represents the highest level of student-athlete at all times. She works hard at practice, but also works diligently in the classroom. She understands how to balance many activities at once and does so successfully. She improves her times and technique at each practice and meet, showing other athletes that hard work pays off, and carries that attitude in the classroom as well,” Martin said.
While swimming may seem like an individual sport, for Oakwood High School senior Brendan Tsui it’s the teammates that make it a good sport for him.
“Every team I've been on doesn't just feel like a bunch of peers, I feel as though they are my closest friends. My highlights are definitely the friendships I've built over the years as I've met people through sports that I typically wouldn't meet through school,” Tsui said.
That strong team feeling is demonstrated in Tsui’s actions as one of this year’s OHS swim and dive team captains.
“He shows up on time every day with a positive attitude. Even if he is having a rough practice, you can always count on him to encourage his teammates and complete the set. Brendan cheers for his teammates at meets and helps new swimmers navigate practices and meets,” Swim Coach Audrey Martin said.
Tsui began club swimming in the seventh grade and competing for school in eighth grade.
“Swimming gives me a concrete purpose. While competing, I have a goal that I am certain of and it is to swim as hard and fast as I can. It is also the confidence I have while swimming. During the swim, it's only your individual performance. You don't have to react to an opponent. It's only what you're capable of,” Tsui said.
Coach Martin says Tsui is capable of some great swims thanks to his solid work ethic. His “thoughtful and driven” technique during practices and competition also makes him a great role model for his teammates.
“Brendan's attitude and work ethic constantly make him a good role model for the team. He is always on time and prepared, he takes on challenging practices with eagerness, and he encourages his teammates to do the same. Coaching an athlete that encompasses all of these qualities makes my job so enjoyable. By following Brendan's lead, other members of the team can only improve,” Martin said.
While Tsui doesn’t know what the future holds for his competitive swimming, he believes it will continue to be a part of his life.
“Even if I don't swim competitively in college, swimming is a sport where organization isn't necessary and is already a very good workout. I can see myself still enjoying swim and using swim as a way to stay fit and healthy after I graduate.”
When Oakwood coaches call an athlete “The Oakwood Jack,” it’s obvious that student athlete has made an impression. That is certainly true of this month’s Jack of the Month, Oakwood High School senior Jack Henry.
A two-time captain of the OHS wrestling team, Henry has been wrestling since the third grade. He says there’s more than just physical toughness that goes into being a successful wrestler.
“Wrestling is not only a physical sport, but it is also one that builds character and teaches a multitude of life lessons that I will bring into my future,” Henry said.
Head Wrestling Coach Nick Berger says Henry is also sharing those life lessons with his fellow wrestlers.
“He is definitely a role model for our underclassman. The way he practices and drills is a great example for the younger wrestlers to see and try to emulate. Jack is extremely dependable and I can rely on him to be another coach out on the mat,” Berger said.
While Henry has had success on the mat, including qualifying for Districts his freshmen year, his wrestling career has had its setbacks. He’s dealt with his share of injuries but says hard work and perseverance has helped him push through. Berger agrees, Henry “has a motor that doesn’t stop.”
“He goes 100% all the time and many times he wears out his opponent in the third period because of his ability to keep pushing the whole time,” Berger said.
And while he will say goodbye to the OHS wrestling team as a student athlete, he won’t stop being “The Oakwood Jack.”
“It has been exciting to see the Oakwood wresting program grow over the years and I wish the underclassmen on the team best of luck for their years to come.”
While there may not be highlights on the scoreboard or in record books for Oakwood High School cheerleaders, the hard work and dedication these student athletes give to the program makes an impact. This month’s Jill of the Month, Julia Mullen has been firing up Oakwood crowds since she came to the program in seventh program.
“Julia is an extremely talented cheerleader in making up new dances and she has outstanding showmanship! Oakwood fans gravitate to watch her on game days because she shines so brightly!” Varsity Cheer Coach Kathy Barlow said.
Julia says she has benefitted from the program, growing as a person and getting “to explore a completely different, creative side.”
“When I’m cheering, I get this indescribable feeling. I feel excited, happy and always a tad bit nervous. But I mainly feel content. I get the sense that I'm at home. This is what I want to be doing for my high school career: cheering on our football and basketball players, getting the crowds excited through cheers and chants, performing dances, and so much more,” Mullen said.
Barlow says Mullen is “driven by hard work and dedication,” that shows on game day and ever day with her peers.
“At the end of a long eight-hour cheer camp day, Julia was still practicing the dance like it was a game day performance, giving 100% even when she’s not asked too! Her cheerleading peers think so highly of her she was voted ‘Most Spirited’ in the fall,” Barlow said.
And while her official cheering days will most likely come to an end when she graduates, Mullen says don’t count her out on the sidelines.
“I will always come back home to cheer on and support the Jacks and my best friends that I’ve made through cheer.”
Senior Tess Henderson has been playing field hockey in Oakwood since the fourth grade, thanks to her sisters.
“Field Hockey is a family sport for me. All of my older sisters played when they were in high school. They are my role models, so I decided I wanted to continue to play in high school,” Henderson said.
As the fourth and last of the Henderson sisters to play Oakwood High School field hockey, Coach Mitch Miller says it seems like he’s known Henderson forever. He describes this team leader as “fierce, determined, positive and yet kind and caring for her teammates and others.”
Henderson says while her sport is quite physical, it requires mental skill as well.
“When I am on the field, I play smart. I'm always thinking on the field and deciding my next move. I also talk to my teammates while on the field, I actually talk so much my voice goes hoarse by the end of the game,” Henderson said.
It’s that type of leadership that Miller says makes Henderson the “epitome of a senior role model.”
“She was instrumental in our team's success this season, whether she was leading on the field or on the sidelines. She has dedicated the last nine years to organized field hockey. Tess always thanks us, the coaching staff, daily for what we do. She always gives 100%. She's always ‘all in,’” Miller said.
While high school field hockey is over for Henderson, she says the impact will stay with her.
“Being on a team really sets me up for my future because I now have lifelong friends and I have learned good life lessons along the way. I've learned to listen to other people's opinions, live with passion and always have a positive attitude,” Henderson said.
And she says Coach Miller will also continue to have an impact thanks to one of his key phrases, "have self discipline, a positive mental attitude and give honest hard work.”
Running more than 50 miles a week makes Dolan Johnson “a great example to his teammates,” according to Oakwood High School Cross Country Coach Dan Flaute. All of that training also helped to earn Johnson a spot at this year’s OHSAA State Meet.
Johnson started running track and field in the sixth grade when he lived in Oklahoma. He had “played all the main sports that are known, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey” but it was running that he continues because he loves it.
“The feeling when I run is really indescribable. It is a very powerful feeling of excitement and pain. It is very hard to describe, it is not like any other sport,” Johnson said.
It’s a sport he hopes to continue.
“It fits into my future because this is what I want to do for the rest of my life, I want to run and become the best.”
Calm, composed and focused. That’s just three ways October Jill of the Month Amy Sarle has been described. Coach Elizabeth Kussman says the Oakwood High School junior midfielder “leads by example.” And while she may have questioned Sarle’s pre-game preparation at one time, she doesn’t any more.
“On my way to Lane one day for a game, I saw Amy walking up the large hill on Far Hills near Five Points. Her glasses were dark because of all the sun, she had headphones in, a scowl on her face, walking with a purpose and basically looked like the terminator. I was confused why she wasn’t at the field for our game yet and a little irritated. That game she went out and played unbelievable and I haven’t questioned her game preparation methods again!!” Kussman said.
Sarle says she started playing soccer when she was 10. While she also ran, swam and played tennis, soccer was always her favorite.
“Whenever I play, I can just relax and have fun. It’s a nice break from school and whatever else is going on,” Sarle said.
She may be relaxing but this team leader says she always puts 100% effort into her player. Her coach says she does even more than that.
“Amy gives 110% every time she steps foot on the field. She disrupts the defense of other teams with high pressure and can take anyone 1v1. She’s a versatile player, as well, and plays quite composed under pressure and distributes the ball so well from midfield,” Kussman said.
Kussman says it’s not just Sarle’s play that that makes her an asset to the team.
“Amy’s attitude and demeanor make her an absolute joy to coach. I wish I had multiples of her! She is the type of kid who will do anything she is asked without question. She excels on the soccer field, but the classroom as well.”
Tommy Lunne, the October Jack of the Month, is a three-sport athlete at Oakwood High School. Soon he’ll hang up his football pads and move into the Pit for the start of the basketball season. From there, he’ll head to the diamond for baseball, a sport he’s been playing since he was four years old. Obviously, this Jack senior loves sports.
“I love competing. It’s a great feeling winning a game with your friends,” Lunne said.
OHS Head Football Coach Butch Snider agrees Lunne’s competitive spirit helps him be the player he is.
“Tommy is a good athlete who works hard every day. He has the ability to both throw and run the ball effectively for us. He is a competitor who will do whatever is needed to help the team be successful,” Snider said.
As the quarterback this year, Lunne has been a leader on the field. Snider says his positive play doesn’t stop there.
“He is always a positive person who helps to make his teammates better and always displays great sportsmanship on and off the field of play,” Snider said.
Lunne says he tries “hard to be the best” he can be and his coach agrees.
“Not only is he a good football player but he is an outstanding person too. He is very unselfish and committed to giving his best effort not only for himself but for his teammates as well,” Snider said.
Sarah Hall, the September Jill of the Month, may be new to Oakwood High School tennis, being a freshman, but she’s not new to the sport in which she is excelling. She began playing tennis when she was seven and has stuck with it because she just loves playing.
Varsity girls’ tennis coach Kim Gilbert says no one should take her for granted based on her age or experience.
“Sarah is one of the most intense players I've ever coached. She is a freshman who plays with confidence, power and intellect,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert first met Hall at tryouts in August but very quickly knew the freshman would make an impact on the OHS tennis. At the Pickerington Central Doubles Invitational in mid-August, Hall joined sophomore Lily McCloskey to play first doubles. The pair won, helping OHS win the event and take down some of the toughest teams in the state.
“Her [Hall] performance on the court at the Pickerington Doubles tournament exceeded all of my expectations as an athlete and team player,” Gilbert said.
Winning the tournament ranks as one of Hall’s favorite memories in her young career, a career that has already seen a lot of success this season.
“Sarah is an excellent example of a talented athlete but keeping humble. She knows there are better players and she is looking for ways to improve, working and dedicating her time to tennis for the team,” Gilbert said.
In the future, Hall hopes to play tennis for a Division 1 college, and after that who knows how long she will stay on the court.
“Tennis is a great sport, because whether you’re 90 or 3, you can still play and have fun with it.”
Will Midtbo, the September Jack of the Month, has been making his mark on Oakwood High School soccer since he was a freshman.
“As a freshman, Will was a little smaller than he is now. At first sight, I was not sure how much he would be adding to the program, but watching that first burst of speed and ability, we knew early on that Will could help the program, he could help varsity from day one,” Varsity boys’ soccer coach Kyle Duwel said.
Midtbo says one of his “favorite” memories also comes from that first year playing for OHS.
“One of my favorite moments during my career was the first time I got an assist during a varsity game. I was just a freshman and everything seemed so overwhelming and fast paced. I don’t really remember how I got the assist but I just remember how much energy and excitement there was right after. It was something I hadn’t experienced during a game before,” Midtbo said.
Now a senior and captain of the team, Midtbo is a leader on and off the field.
“At the end of last season, Will was ready to lead from day one. He understood he wanted to be a leader for the team in his senior season and has done so. He wants the team to be great and he knows it starts by example,” Duwel said.
Midtbo began playing soccer when he was four. While he also played basketball and ran track, it was soccer that he loved playing.
“No matter who the other players are on the team or who the coaches are, I am going to play because of my love for the game. Fortunately, I have had Incredible teammates over the past years and knowledgeable dedicated coaches alongside me,” Midtbo said.
Even though he’s wrapping up his senior season, Midtbo says soccer will stay a part of his life.
“No matter what path I take in life. I hope I will always have soccer in it. Whether that be coaching or having a team I support and follow, it is important to me that soccer will always stay in my life.”