Friday, September 22, 2023

Independence streak reaches 98 on Senior Night

With a 3-1 win over visiting Trinity on Thursday, Independence extended its conference winning streak to 98 straight matches.

But, by winning a set against the Blue Devils, Trinity snapped Independence’s streak of 53 straight sweeps against conference foes.

“It was very exciting to win against such a competitive team tonight,” said senior Grace Smotek, one of two Independence seniors honored before the match. “We had not seen much competition in our first two matches, so this really gave us a good look at where we are at right now.”

The Blue Devils opened the match with a 25-22 win then dropped the second set, 25-27. They rallied to win the next two, and the match, 25-16, 25-12.

Smotek and senior Madison Stepanik have yet to lose a conference match.

In fact, until Thursday, they hadn’t lost a set to a conference opponent.

“I have never dropped a set in conference play during my time here so that was really something in the back of my mind as we lost the second set,” Smotek said. “I knew I needed to pull the team together and regroup fast after that loss and we did that going into the third. The discussion in the huddle focused on getting out first ball because we struggled with that in the second set.”

The last time Independence had lost a set to a Chagrin Valley Conference opponent was in a 3-2 win over Chagrin Falls on Sept. 8, 2016.

Independence’s last conference setback was to Cuyahoga Heights on Sept. 6, 2012, although Lutheran West, who was not yet in the CVC, beat the Blue Devils, 3-2, on Oct. 25, 2016.

Even having their streak of conference sweeps snapped, the Independence seniors enjoyed every moment of Senior Night.

“It was such an exciting night, playing a competitive team and coming on top was definitely icing on the cake,” Stepanik said. “I’m just trying to make the most of every moment during my senior year. I’m super excited to see where this season takes us.”

Stepanik, who on Saturday was named Homecoming Queen, has had quite the week.

“I’m so fortunate that our community has given us these opportunities with everything going on,” she said.

Smotek, a four-year starter, and Stepanik have been part of three runs to the state Final Four.

The Blue Devils first played in Dayton back in 2017 and then in each of the past two seasons the team has finished as the Division III state runner-up.

And, now, with time winding down in their high school careers, it’s becoming harder and harder to keep the emotions in check.

“It can get very emotional at times knowing that this is my last season as a Blue Devil, but I just appreciate every moment I get with this team especially under the circumstances we are dealing with right now,” Smotek said. “This was not how I pictured my senior season but I am not going to let it get in the way of our ultimate goal we have for this team.”

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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