Saturday, November 27, 2021

Independence sweeps into fourth straight state final

DAYTON—Independence secured its fourth straight OHSAA Division III state championship match appearance with a gutsy 3-0 win over Frankfort Adena in the second of two semifinals at Nutter Arena on Friday.

The Blue Devils rallied back from an eight-point deficit to win the first set, 25-22, and then easily won the second, 25-16. Adena led by as many as nine points in the third set before the Blue Devils rallied to win their 28th straight match, 26-24.

“It feels great,” said Independence coach Anthony Messina of the Blue Devils earning another shot at the title match. “The girls have worked hard, (are) so resilient, and they’re confident in what they do. Yeah, I’m churning inside, you better believe that, but I have a lot of faith in my seniors and even not my seniors, but it feels good to get back.”

Independence was sparked by the return of senior Hanna Wilson, who missed the 2020 run to the state final with a torn ACL and most of the 2021 season with a torn meniscus.

She finished the match with 10 kills in her first action since September.

“I was definitely nervous,” Wilson said. “Big stage to play my first game again but everyone really helped me out. I didn’t feel alone out there. We all worked together and I think it went well.”

Wilson originally was told her injury was a season-ender, but she worked hard during her physical therapy sessions and was cleared to play earlier in the week.

“My surgeon told me multiple times I wasn’t playing, but I went to therapy like three times a week and I just worked as hard as I could,” Wilson said. “My therapist and my trainer were like, ‘you have a chance,’ so I just kept working out and my surgeon really was like, ‘Alright, I can’t stop you now.’”

Adena couldn’t stop her either.

Wilson recorded five kills in the first set as the Blue Devils rallied from a 10-2 deficit by stringing together several three and four-point runs.

Wilson ended the set with a powerful cross-court kill.

The Warriors, who ended the year with a 25-3 record, had gone 15 straight matches without losing a set.

“Set one is huge, so no matter how resilient you are, set one is huge,” Messina said. “Getting through set one the way we did after being down settles the troops down, settles the forces down a little bit.

Independence jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second set but the Warriors rallied back to even things up at 5-5. The Blue Devils went on to outscore the Warriors the rest of the way, 20-11.

Adena dominated the third set, at least early on.

The Warriors built an 11-4 lead and fought off a couple of Independence runs to push their lead to 18-10.

Callie Prokopius recorded a kill to swing the momentum into Independence’s favor. An attack error pulled the Blue Devils to within 18-12 and then two blocks—one by Prokopius and the other from Wilson—led to back-to-back kills by Grace Taliaferro and Prokopius that cut Adena’s lead to 18-16.

Prokopius added a pair of kills to tie the match at 19-19.

A Hannah Burns kill gave Adena a 23-22 advantage but Sammy Barther and Aubrey Anders both recorded kills and an Adena attack error ended the match.

“With Hanna being down, and Callie has got a bad knee, we got other players that are banged up, and they have just continued to work hard and play hard,” Messina said. “We asked them not to take any plays off and they played to the end. Volleyball is a game of momentum. The momentum swung the other way a couple times, and some of that is our fault, some of it was their good play, but to be able to turn around and get focused and figure it out and turn it back around, it’s unbelievable.”

Prokopius led the Blue Devils with 11 kills while Avila and Anders both contributed with eight. Macy McNamara posted a team-high 15 digs, and Prokopius and Anders tied for the team lead with three blocks.

With the win, Independence improved to 28-0 and will play Liberty-Benton (29-0) in the state championship match on Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

The Blue Devils and Eagles met in the 2019 championship match with Liberty-Benton winning in five sets.

“I think there’s a lot of revenge,” said senior setter Abby Avila, who recorded 32 assists in the semifinals. “We know this team pretty well. Liberty-Benton’s best two hitters, we played against them our sophomore year, so definitely, we want to win.”

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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