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    Blue Devils win seven events at Potopsky Invitational


    INDEPENDENCE—Led by junior Skylar Leichliter, Independence athletes won seven individual events on the way to a second-place finish in both the boys’ and girls’ competitions at the 2021 Dan Potopsky Invitational on Tuesday.

    Leichliter won the pole vault and long jump and also placed fourth in the 300-meter hurdles and 10th in the 100-meter hurdles.

    She cleared seven feet in the pole vault and marked up at 16-feet, 5-inches in the long jump.

    “I felt like long jump was very successful for me today,” Leichliter said. “I am happy to have jumped in the 16s. Pole vault was not my best, but I did what I could to help the team.”

    Leichliter finished the 300 hurdles in 54.17 seconds and started fast in the 100 hurdles but got tripped up midway through the race and finished in 22.18, just four seconds behind the winner.

    “Hurdles are still very new to me but I learned I need to stay focused throughout the whole race,” she said. “I am excited for my next meet to improve on that.”

    Senior Rachel Belitz broke the 10-year old school record in winning the triple jump with a mark of 29-feet, 8-inches.

    She was especially excited to perform so well on Senior Night.

    “With tonight being Senior Night, I felt like more eyes were on us seniors just because everyone had just seen our presentation,” she said. “At the beginning of the meet, I was definitely more nervous but the nerves just led to appreciation. This is technically my first full year of track and the amount of support I’ve gotten from this track program has been unforgettable. I can’t appreciate enough my coaches and teammates taking me in and letting me run.”

    Belitz has been competing in the triple jump for just a few days but her natural athletic ability helped her to quickly gain comfort in the event.

    “A couple of days ago, Coach Pucella asked me to try the triple jump, so I practiced it a couple of days then went into the meet and jumped,” Belitz said. “My coach and brother, Josh, really helped me nail down the technique so I could do my best. I’m surprised that I actually ended up breaking our school record but my jumps were consistently getting farther each time. I was very happy about that.”

    Belitz also placed among the top five in a pair of relays.

    She teamed up with Casey Adams, Ava Moreal, and Alex Adams to place fifth in the 4×200-meter relay with a time of 1:59.50, and joined Paige Westerburg, Kate Coljohn, and Moreal in finishing fifth in the 4×400-meter relay with a time of 4:48.96.

    Senior Madison Stepanik continued her assault on the school record book as she broke her own record in the shot put with a toss of 37-11. She also won the discus with a throw of 104-2.

    “I was super stoked about my results on Senior Night as well as how well the rest of my teammates performed,” Stepanik said.

    With the shot put record behind her, Stepanik hopes to continue to add distance to her throws.

    “I’m hoping to break 40 feet and take it from there,” she said. “Coach Clymer has been putting in extra time with me to help me work on my form and improve my throws.”

    Stepanik also placed third in the high jump by clearing 4-feet, 8-inches.

    Juniors Kyle Zygmunt and Emmett Stralka also won events for the Blue Devils.

    Zygmunt cleared 5-feet, 10-inches to win the high jump and Stralka won the 100-meter dash in 11.47 seconds.

    “I was content with my performance, however, I know I could have done better,” Stralka said. “I am shooting for .4 seconds off the times I got. There is always room for improvement.”

    Stralka also finished second in the 200-meter dash with a time of 23.06 and competed in two relays.

    He teamed up with Jack Taliaferro, Zygmunt, and Martinez to place third in the 4×100-meter relay. That group finished in 44.88, just .07 seconds away from the school record.

    Stralka then ran the anchor leg in the 4×400-meter relay. Taliaferro, Zygmunt, and John Eisenmann also contributed to the 3:51.64 time, good for fifth place.

    “These invites are always a confidence booster going into the postseason,” Stralka said. “If you can place in events with large schools, you have a chance of going deeper into the postseason. The goal is to stay healthy and injury-free and to keep putting points on the board.”

    Zygmunt also earned a third-place finish in the 4×200-meter relay. Josh Belitz, Lucas Martinez, and Chase Manelski also ran in the event. The Blue Devils finished in 1;36.52.

    Other Independence athletes to finish among the top five included Alex Adams (2nd, 100m, 13.55), Casey Adams (3rd, 200m, 28.40; 2nd, long jump, 15-11), Josh Belitz (2nd, triple jump, 38-0), Coljohn (5th, 400m, 1:12.32), Eisenmann (5th, 300m hurdles, 47.44), Kaitlyn Grill (5th, shot put, 28-0; 5th, discus, 84-8), Manelski (5th, pole vault, 8-6), Martinez (2nd, pole vault, 10-0), Moreal (4th, 400m, 1:09.00), P.J. Oschmann (2nd, 1600m, 4:52.76; 2nd, 3200m, 10:31.58), Collin Patton (2nd, 800m, 2:08.70), Aubrey Stepanik (2nd, triple jump, 24-6), and Aiden Zambito (4th, triple jump, 28-2).

    The girls 4×100-meter relay team of Westerburg, Belitz, Alex Adams, and Maggie Panichi finished fourth in 57.51.

    Makenna McGhee, Coljohn, Gabby McGreevy, and Westerburg teamed up to place third in the 4×800-meter relay with a time of 11:39.49, and the boys’ 4×800-meter relay team placed third in 9:09.45.

    That group consisted of Patton, Kyle McGovern, Oschmann, and Eisenmann.

    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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