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    Independence avenges state title loss

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    Independence avenged last year’s state championship loss with a five-set win at Huron on Saturday.

    The Blue Devils, who lost to the Tigers in five sets in the Division III state title match last fall, won the rematch, 25-17, 17-25, 18-25, 25-19, 15-10.

    “It was an incredible feeling to beat them, especially in their gym,” said Independence senior Macey McNamara. “It was a great environment to play in to prepare us for the postseason, as Huron always packs the gym with fans.”

    Independence has traveled to Huron in each of the past few seasons and it’s by design.

    The Tigers draw a huge—and raucous—fan base and Independence head coach Tony Messina always is eager to challenge his players to prepare them for the intensity—and finality—of the postseason.

    “It was a war,” Messina said. “That gym is hard to play in. We go there for the adversity, but it was pretty tough. The kids just played really, really well. We won the first one. I thought they had us but we came back. It was back and forth. It was crazy, they’d have a five-point run and then we’d have a five-point run. Nobody could break away. Then, in the tie-breaker, Macey came in and hit a couple of serves and they made a hitting error and we got out of it.”

    Two weeks ago, the Blue Devils faced their first test of the season in a tri-match at Nordonia. Independence beat Riverside, 2-0, but need three sets to beat the host Knights. Earlier this week, Independence beat Magnificat in four sets, but the match at Huron challenged the Blue Devils in many different ways.

    “We’re resilient,” Messina said. “When we went to that Nordonia tri, we didn’t have our best stuff and we had to battle through a tie-breaker with them to get out of that. That took some guts. To come back after set two against Mags, that took guts. Now, tonight, in that gym, which is hot, their fan base and the kids yelling, it’s a hard place to win. They got through all that. Am I happy about that? Absolutely. We’re into October now and they’re showing me they can get through that adversity. We didn’t have our best stuff tonight, but we got through that adversity.”

    Independence’s seniors have experience playing in that gym and they helped keep the younger Blue Devils focused and on task.

    “This experience helped us to keep the underclassman focused on the game,” McNamara said. “We have been working on staying focused during each set, which helps us come back from a deficit and to block out our surroundings.”

    Freshman Aubrey Anders played like a veteran in putting the ball down in key situations.

    “She played really well and had a pretty awesome night for a freshman,” Messina said.

    Anders was laser-focused on the match and that helped her to overcome any nervousness she experienced.

    “Knowing that my teammates are there to support me and back me up helps me manage the nerves,” Anders said. “The key to my success was the fact that my teammates and coaches, and our crowd, had the positive energy to encourage me throughout the rough patches of the game.”

    Now that she played in a five-set battle against the defending state champions, Anders is ready to push forward into the postseason.

    “I think that in future matches similar to this one, the nerves will go down since I’ve played in similar games,” she said. “Now that I have experienced the intensity of this match, I will know what to expect.”

    Huron put together a couple of runs early in the fifth set and led 7-3 and then 11-9 before the Blue Devils, behind key plays from Sammie Barther, Callie Prokopius, and Abby Avila, tied the match at 12-12.

    Barther hammered home two kills in the final three points

    It was McNamara that took over the serve with the match tied at 12 and set the Blue Devils up to finish off the Tigers.

    “I have always loved playing in big matches,” McNamara said of her mindset approaching the service line. “As a senior, I want the ball in my hands because I am confident that I can come through for my team.”

    Steve Harehttps://www.ohiovarsity.com
    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.

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