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    Blue Devils win fourth straight district title


    Independence’s march back to the state tournament took another step on Saturday as the Blue Devils swept visiting Brookside to win their fourth straight Division III district championship.

    The Blue Devils, who improved to 22-3, beat the Cardinals, 25-17, 25-9, 25-16.

    “We did what we needed to do,” Independence coach Tony Messina said. “We struggled at times but we picked it up and we served really well.”

    It was Independence’s aggressive serves that set the tone for the match.

    Callie Prokopius, Grace Taliaferro, Grace Smotek and Macy McIntosh were among Independence’s most potent servers.

    “We had these runs but Brookside would come back at us and then we’d run off four or five or six points with some really aggressive serves,” Messina said. “Gracie (Taliaferro), her first serve went out of the stadium and the next time she got in there, she served six in a row.”

    Madison Stepanik and Sammy Barther also put together strong performances in the win.

    “It was an around the board team effort,” Messina said. “Madison, our senior middle, had a great match. Once she got going, she was blocking balls and knocking balls down. Grace was good and Sammy Barther did what we needed. It truly was, like we want it to be, a team effort. Everybody participated who was on the court.”

    With the win, the Blue Devils earned a return trip to the Barberton Regional tournament where they’ll play Chagrin Valley Conference rival Kirtland, a 3-2 winner over Cardinal in its district final.

    The Blue Devils and Hornets didn’t play during the regular season but Messina is well-aware of the young Hornets’ and their potential.

    “Kirtland is dangerous because they are young and hungry and they have nothing to lose,” he said. “We have to stay focused, that’s the key.”

    One of Messina’s challenges this week will be to keep the Blue Devils focused on the Hornets and not looking ahead at the regional final or state Final Four.

    That shouldn’t be a problem.

    “My MO is it’s always the next match,” Messina said. “Starting Monday, we’ll practice and it’s about this Thursday and not saying we’re the conference champs and we run the CVC. This is Kirtland, who we haven’t played. I watched them and I think they can play. They’re well-coached and they’re young and hungry. I just have to keep reminding them and keep them focused.”

    Steve Hare
    The creator and publisher of, 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, a member of the network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. was created in 2004 and was a member of the 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.
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