Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Independence running for state

Independence’s cross country teams have new coaches but the Blue Devils haven’t changed their goals.

With several talented runners, each squad has set its sights on running at the state meet later this fall.

“I know a lot of returning runners are hungry to go to states as a team after falling short of qualifying by four points,” said Rebecca Powers, who will coach the Independence girls. “They know it won’t be easy with a lot of competitive teams in the regional meet, but with the right mindset, perseverance, and dedication, I think they have the potential to reach their goals.”

Last season, Independence’s girls’ team finished second in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division and second at the Medina District. The Blue Devils placed fourth at the regional meet.

Three starters return from that team including senior Emily Skoczen, junior Makenna McGhee and sophomore Sonia Sajovie.

Skoczen is the only Blue Devil returning after competing in the state meet as an individual last fall. She placed 77th at National Trail Raceway and also was fifth at the CVC meet, eighth at districts and 11th at the regional meet.

“Emily is capping off her sixth year in the program, starting in seventh grade, this year,” Powers said. “Emily’s season last year included being the only member from the girls’ team to qualify to the state meet. Emily will be looking to complete her high school cross country career by improving on her finish place at last year’s state meet.”

McGhee placed fourth at the league meet, ninth at districts and 15th at the regional meet. She ran a season-best time of 20:27 last season.

“Besides completing a progressively harder running plan this season, Makenna is a starter on the girls’ soccer team too,” Powers said. “After just missing out on qualifying to the state meet last year, Makenna is looking to improve on that performance and to be competing in cross country into November this year.”

Sajovie placed eighth at the league meet, 19th at districts and 44th at the regional meet. She ran a season-best time of 21:32 at districts.

“Sonia was a key member of the 2018 girls’ team that just missed qualifying to the state meet,” Powers said. “Now a sophomore, Sonia will be needed to allow the girls’ team to be competitive in the Valley Division of the conference meet as well as advance into the post-season this year.”

Senior Josie Lee is back after a year off and she should provide the Blue Devils with another solid pack runner.

“Josie re-joins the team in her senior year after focusing on soccer only last fall,” Powers said. “Competing in both sports will push Josie to excel on both the soccer fields and on the cross country courses this season.”

Three senior first-year runners will provide the Blue Devils with plenty of depth.

Bella Shumay, Avery Strychasz and Kana Wisniewski all will make their running debuts this fall.

“Bella being on the team will help ensure that the girls’ team can put a full team on the line at each meet and add to that all-important team depth,” Powers said. “Avery and the other two, first-year seniors will provide the team the depth it needs to be competitive when it counts later in the season. Kana has already been training hard. Due to multiple commitments over the next few months, Kana’s ability to race with us on Saturdays is unknown at this time, but if she is able to race with the team on Saturdays, Kana will be the final piece of the puzzle to give the girls’ team the depth that it will need.”

Sophomore Raina Makhlouf also joined the team and will be expected to quickly fit into the lineup.

“Raina is a first-year runner and newer to Independence,” Powers said. “We are looking for her to steadily build up her mileage over the course of the season while watching her times improve.”

Collin Patton
Collin Patton runs to the 2018 CVC Meet championship

Leading the way for the boys’ team and first-year head coach Vern Blaze is junior Collin Patton, who won the CVC title last fall as an individual and placed 10th at districts and 40th at the regional meet.

“We’re looking for Collin to continue improving, build on his qualifying to the regional meet last season and get one step further to Columbus this year,” said Blaze, who spent nine years as an assistant at Independence before taking over as the head coach this season.

Senior Thorin Chappell and junior P.J. Oschmann also return for the Blue Devils.

Chappell, a two-time captain, ran a season-best time of 22:40 at the 2018 Cardinal Invitational. Oschmann placed fifth at the league meet.

“Thorin is a natural-born leader. He has done so much for the team and the program off the courses that the Independence cross country program would look a lot different had he not been around these past years. His presence and leadership will be greatly missed next year,” Blaze said. “P.J. will surprise some people this year. He’s been working hard this summer and thus we’re looking for him to advance further into the postseason this year too.”

Independence finished last season with just four runners. The Blue Devils now have eight thanks to the addition of three sophomores and two freshmen.

The sophomores include Niko Artuso, Malcolm Campbell and Jack Valenti.

“Niko comes to us after having participated in other sports previously. We’re glad he has joined us and we know that he will see improvement from the beginning of the season to the end,” Blaze said. “Malcolm ran for us in the middle school and has rejoined us this year. We’re glad to have him back with the cross country family. Although a first-year runner as a sophomore, based on what we’ve seen of him so far in the preseason, we’re predicting good things to happen as a result of Jack being on the team this year.”

Kyle McGovern and Charlie McGreal are the freshmen on the roster.

“Kyle participated very successfully in our middle school program. This season Kyle’s going to be participating on both the soccer and cross country teams and he will be a valuable point scorer for us this season,” Blaze said. “Charlie is another successful ‘graduate’ of our middle school program. If Charlie regularly puts in the miles this season, even though just a freshman, he can be another valuable point scorer for us too this season.”

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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