Monday, February 26, 2024

Blue Devils win league title

INDEPENDENCE—Speed paid off for the Independence boys track team at Thursday’s Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division track meet.

The Blue Devils claimed wins in the 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200-meter open races and won a pair of field events to hold off second place Cuyahoga Heights, 182-164.

“It was another battle with Heights,” said Independence coach Craig Polman. “It seems to be every year that it comes down to us and Heights. This year was a little bit different because we were a much more balanced team and it was interesting because Heights was more balanced as well. Every event both teams were scoring. It wasn’t as lopsided as in the past where we totally dominated the distance events and they dominated the hurdles and pole vault.”

The league title was the third for the Blue Devils in four seasons.

Freshman Sam Belitz had a big day in winning the high jump (6-1) and the 400-meter dash (52.66) and he helped two relay teams finish second. He teamed up with sophomore Ryan Zygmunt and juniors Jesse Belitz and Dominic Durdella to finish second in the 4×400-meter relay and also ran in the 4×200 with Durdella, junior Jared McCullough and senior Nick Brunsman. That group finished the race in 1:33.92.

McCullough won the 100 (11.45) and 200-meter dashes. He clocked a 23.47-second time in the 200.

This is McCullough’s first season with the Blue Devils after moving from North Carolina and his first year on the track. He played soccer for Independence in the fall.

“I heard he was a pretty fast kid but I didn't know what to expect,” Polman said. “When he came out for the team I could tell he was fast but I didn't really realize how fast he was because he tends to hold back. He has never run track before in his life so he's learning as he goes.”

Apparently he’s a quick learner.

He struggled in the 200 earlier in the season against Cuyahoga Heights’ Dylan Drummond , who edged McCullough for first place in Tuesday’s preliminary race. McCullough pulled out the win on Thursday by .4 seconds.

“He doesn’t understand the 100 and 200 meters are an all-out sprint from start to finish,” Polman said. “He has kind of attacked the 100 but in the 200 he kind of jogs into the first 100 meters on the turn and pours it on in the straightaway. He didn't have the confidence that he was faster than Dylan Drummond in the 200. I said. 'Look, you're faster than him but you can't spot him five or 10 meters because he's a fast kid and you're not going to make up that ground.’ Fortunately he listened to me. The way he came out of the blocks the first 10 meters, I knew he had the race won.”

McCullough also contributed to Independence’s second place finish in the 4×100-meter relay. Jesse Belitz, Brunsman, Durdella and McCullough finished the race in 45.07 seconds.

Junior Tyler Polman claimed four wins for the Blue Devils.

He finished the mile in 4:35.24, the two-mile in 10:06.25 and the 800 in 2:05.93. He also teamed up with Jesse Belitz, junior Kevin Clymer and Zygmunt to win the 4×800-meter relay in 8:45.63.

Junior Ben Artrip won the discus with a throw of 155-feet and was the runner-up in the shot put (45-11 ¾).

Independence’s other runner-ups were Jesse Belitz and Brunsman. Belitz finished the 800 in 2:07.99 and Brunsman hit 19-feet, 8 ¼ inches in the long jump.

Other top five finishers were junior Kevin Clymer, who finished third in the 1600 (4:45.11), senior Colin Jedrzejek, who claimed third in the pole vault (10-6) and fourth in the 3200 (10:49.71), Zygmunt, who was fourth in the 400 (54.48), freshman Robert Artrip, who was fifth in the pole vault (9-6), junior Adrian Pope, who was fifth in the long jump (18-10 ¼), senior Dustin Ernst, who was fifth in the shot put (43-11 ½) and senior Kevin Mewhinney, who was fifth in the 110-meter hurdles (18.16).

Junior Dana Zaccardelli led the Independence girls to a second place finish behind Kirtland and standout senior Katie Straus, who won four events for the second straight year.

“I think we accomplished our goals today,” Polman said. “We knew Kirtland was just a real strong team on the girls side with Straus running and winning four events. It's very difficult to make that up. The girls were really shooting for second place there and we figured we'd be in a tough battle with Cardinal and we seemed to get the job done today.”

Zaccardelli won both the 1600 and 3200-meter runs. She broke her own school record with a 5:31.66 time in the mile and finished the two-mile in 12:22.39.

“Dana's school record was a bit of a surprise,” Polman said. “She hadn’t run anywhere near that so far this season but she certainly has the talent to do it. We haven't had real good weather so far this season and today the conditions were pretty ideal. The winds were kind of light and it was pretty warm early on. As it got overcast it cooled things off nicely. She got that competitive spirit and stayed close enough to the Kirtland girl who was leading the way, took the lead over and went after it.”

Junior Daniela Radujkovic was Independence’s only other individual event winner. She won the shot put with a toss of 31-8.

Junior Maria Sagi claimed two runner-up finishes and a fifth place.

She was second to Zaccardelli in the 3200 with a time of 13:04.15 and fifth in the 1600 (5:54.14). She teamed up with Zaccardelli and junior Lauren Taras and freshman Emma Wensink to finish second in the 4×800-meter relay (10:36.91).

Sophomores Christina Brunsman and Jasmine Harb, freshman Amy Ksiazka and senior Olivia Jones finished third in the 4×100-meter relay with a time of 55.79.

The Blue Devils had a host of fourth place finishers including sophomore Martha Clymer, senior Ellie Clymer, Brunsman and Wensink.

Martha Clymer threw the shot 30-feet, 3 ¾ inches and Ellie Clymer cleared 7-feet, 6-inches in the pole vault and ran the 100-meter hurdles in 18.08 seconds.

Wensink ran the 800 in 2:37.19 and Brunsman finished the 100 in 13.71 seconds and the 200 in 28.73. She also finished fifth in the long jump with a mark of 15-feet, 2-inches.


Steve Hare
Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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