Blasting Post,

by Michael Leonard,

Sports Editor;

I know that most kids in the area hate to even think about returning to school at this point.

However, summer vacation for high school athletes in Ohio has already entered its final two weeks -- not including summer conditioning.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association calendar has football two-a-days starting Aug. 2, with the other fall sports starting Aug. 6.

Athletes in the Record Publishing Co. coverage area will be hard-pressed to repeat the success they had last fall. Four state titles and three other state final four berths may have made it the most successful season in decades locally.

Looking forward to the upcoming fall season, there's some questions I've got banging around in my head. It's likely the answers won't play out for some until November.

* Which returning state championship team has the best chance to repeat?

On paper, it would seem difficult for any of the four returning champions to repeat because all four teams took big hits from the bane of high school sports dynasties: graduation.

The Walsh girls soccer lost eight girls to graduation -- and nearly all of those will play Division I college ball this fall. Walsh's boys team lost 10 graduates and Stow-Munroe Falls' unbeaten boys team has a whopping 13 seniors gone -- including virtually its entire starting lineup.

Meanwhile, Woodridge's boys cross country crew lost four of its top seven runners, including school record holder Scott Hilditch.

Based on recent history, I'll go with Dino McIntyre and Co. at Walsh. The most animated girls soccer coach in Ohio has a tendency to reload with his team, not rebuild.

* Which new football coach will have the biggest impact on his team?

Three new coaches take the reins of RPC football teams this fall and all are taking over a very solid program.

Jason Hall may be stepping into the biggest job at Nordonia, as he steps into the shoes of a bonafide coaching legend in Keith Boedicker.

Hall's playing pedigree at Mount Union is impressive, and the jobs he did at previous stops at Southeast and Brush were admirable. However, Hall knows he's going to a school known for its football and that expectations will be high.

With Nordonia losing a massive senior class, it might be tough this year for Hall, but I expect the Knights to ride high again soon.

Over at Maple Heights, Tom Bruney is stepping into an almost identical situation. First, Maple just lost perhaps its best football-playing class in school history. Second, former coach Jeff Rotsky did the almost impossible, turning a program left for dead into a local power.

Bruney comes in with a solid coaching pedigree, but most of it happened while he was coaching at Maryville High School in Phoenix. Can he maintain the Mustangs' level of success while adjusting to Ohio-style football? Time will tell.

However, I believe the coach most set up for success this season is new Bedford head man John Gibbons. From his days at St. Edward and Lake Catholic, there's little doubt what Gibbons can do as head coach. The only question is whether Gibbons can handle a return to the public school ranks after spending the last 24 years at the helm at private schools.

There is one thing Gibbons will have this fall that the other two coaches will not: a large crop of returning starters. Bedford's senior class has shown a lot of talent and athleticism, particularly on defense. This could be the X factor that gives Gibbons the best start.

* Will there be another big November for RPC football teams?

Another aspect that made last fall so much fun was the collective excellence among RPC football squads. Seven of the 14 eligible RPC teams reached the OHSAA playoffs. (Western Reserve Academy is not an OHSAA member.)

However, enrollment increases may make the job harder for some schools this fall. For the first time since the OHSAA went to its current six-division format, Bedford is back at Division I, while Nordonia and Twinsburg move to D-I for the first time in history.

Likewise, John Arlesic has Streetsboro moving in the right direction. However, the Rockets move up to Division III this year and Division III, Region 9 has a history of rugged playoff matchups.

Predicting who will make the playoffs in late July is a task only the foolhardy would attempt. Guess I'll just settle in and wait for summer vacation to wind itself down.

E-mail: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-688-0088 ext. 3113