INDEPENDENCE—A battle of state-ranked teams lived up to its billing as Independence topped visiting Lake Catholic on Wednesday, 3-2.

The Blue Devils, who are ranked fourth in the latest Division III poll, won the first set, 25-21. Lake Catholic, ranked No. 10 in Division II, rallied for a 25-22 win in the second and took a 2-1 lead with a 25-18 win in the third set. Independence won 25-14 in the fourth to force a decisive fifth set and the Blue Devils took early control and went on to win that one, 15-8.


“Tonight was a great team win for us against a state-ranked team,” said Independence junior defensive specialist Macy McNamara. “We battled back after two set losses and brought great energy to win the fifth set. It was a very fun match to be a part of.”

For Independence, the five-set win was its first since 2016 and first at home since a 3-2 win over Magnificat in 2014.

The Blue Devils lost at Huron on Saturday in their only other five-set match this season.

“After Huron, coach (Tony) Messina made a point at practice that we need to work harder to finish our five-set matches,” said Independence senior Grace Smotek. “It’s always good to be pushed, especially when it’s so close to the postseason. We needed to get that fifth set win under our belt. As a team, we don’t want that to be a mental stopping block when we know we are going to five.”

Smotek led the Blue Devils with 14 kills and also added seven digs in the win.

“We started off strong going into the first set,” Smotek said. “We were moving the ball around pretty well tonight and finding ways to score. We kept our composure when we needed to and we ended up with a win because of that.”

Smotek and her front line teammates also made some in-match adjustments to fight off the impressive duo of attackers the Cougars possessed.

Jessica Wilson and Norah Vargo combined for over 30 kills in the match but were relatively quiet in the fourth and fifth sets.

“Gracie (Taliaferro) and Madison (Stepanik) really tightened our block, which helped our defense read and react,” Smotek said. “By doing that, we threw them out of system a little and everything else fell into place for us.”

Taliaferro led the Blue Devils with 17 kills and Callie Prokopius contributed with eight.

McNamara posted a team-best 18 digs in the match, a key statistic considering the power of Lake Catholic’s front line.

“My mentality is to always keep the ball off the floor and to put my team in the best position to score,” McNamara said.

Independence improved to 15-3 while Lake Catholic dropped to 9-6.

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The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. 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.