Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Independence back with unfinished business

Independence opens the 2021 season riding a pair of impressive streaks and one monkey the Blue Devils hope to shake off their backs.

The Blue Devils have won 106 straight Chagrin Valley Conference games and are one of three Ohio high schools to have played in the last four Final Four tournaments. Independence also is just one of 22 schools to compete in four straight Final Fours in the history of the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

Despite their impressive runs, the Blue Devils are 0-3 in state championship matches. They hope to change that this season.

“Our goal is to return to the Final Four,” said fourth-year head coach Anthony Messina.

Independence first reached the Final Four in 2017. The Blue Devils fell to Coldwater in the state semifinals that year, 3-0. From 2018-2020, the Blue Devils advanced to the Division III state championship game but have yet to win the school’s first state title. They lost to Versailles in 2018, 3-0, and then dropped a pair of 3-2 matches to Liberty-Benton and Huron in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

While winning that elusive state title is the ultimate goal, the Blue Devils also have their sights set on continuing their dominance of the CVC.

Independence last lost a conference match in 2012 when rival Cuyahoga Heights won a 3-0 match. The Blue Devils did lose to Lutheran West in a 2016 district semifinal but that was before the Longhorns had joined the CVC.

While the Blue Devils did graduate some key seniors from last season, the Blue Devils return five starters from last year’s squad that finished 25-4 overall.

Leading the way is a pair of four-year starters in team captains Abby Avila and Callie Prokopius.

Avila, a setter, earned third-team All-Ohio honors last fall along with honorable mention all-district and second-team All-CVC. Prokopius, a right-side hitter, was named first-team All-CVC ad third-team all-district.

Three-year starters Hanna Wilson and Gracie Taliaferro also return.

Wilson, a senior outside hitter and tri-captain, returns to the team after missing last season with an injury. Taliaferro, a junior middle, earned honorable mention All-Ohio honors last fall along with first-team All-CVC and second-team all-district.

Senior libero Macy McNamara is back to lead the defense after earning honorable mention all-conference honors last season.

Junior outside hitter Sammy Barther is entering her second year on the varsity squad and senior defensive specialist Sadie Habeeb returns for her third year with the team. Senior defensive specialist Ava Moreal will help solidify the Independence defense.

Newcomers Emily Richards, Aubrey Anders, and Sofia Smotek are expected to make key contributions this fall.

Richards is a sophomore right side/defensive specialist, Anders is a freshman middle blocker, and Smotek is a freshman outside hitter/defensive specialist.

“Emily has a great work ethic and will help where needed,” Messina said. “Aubrey and Sofia are hard-working freshmen capable of helping us immediately.”

Click here to watch the Independence segment from the 2021 CVC Volleyball Media Day.

Steve Harehttp://www.ohiovarsity.com
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes OhioVarsity.com, 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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