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    Independence claims title at Cuyahoga Heights Relays

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    CUYAHOGA HEIGHTS—Strong performances from several athletes coupled with quality depth led the Independence girls’ track team to first place at the Cuyahoga Heights Relays on Saturday.

    The Blue Devils also took home second in the boys’ competition.

    “It was really exciting,” said Independence coach Jess Crooks. “Both teams did great. They came ready to compete and I felt like there was a great energy on the team.”

    The girls finished with 93 points while Western Reserve Academy scored 80 and Kirtland finished third with 67.

    Senior Madison Stepanik continued her hot streak this spring with two event wins and a second-place finish on her way to winning the girls’ field event MVP award.

    “It was super exciting for me, especially with my teammates cheering me on as it was announced,” Stepanik said.

    Stepanik won the shot put (34-1) and the discus (102-2) and placed second in the high jump (5-00).

    She already has broken the school record in the shot put this season—twice—and her focus remains steadfast each meet.

    “It’s critical for me to continue to add distance to my throws for later in the postseason,” Stepanik said. “I know I can’t let my guard down in competition.”

    Stepanik teamed up with sophomores Kaitlyn Grill, Aubrey Stepanik, and Jessica Harb to run the unscored Diesel Relay, an event that typically draws field event participants into a sprint relay.

    That group finished fourth in 1:07.11.

    “It was great,” Stepanik said. “I always look forward to the diesel run and even if you don’t come out on top, it’s always something fun to look back on for sure.”

    Freshman Casey Adams took home a win in the long jump.

    She cleared 15-feet, 5-inches and also placed fourth in the high jump (4-6), and competed in a pair of relays.

    Adams teamed up with juniors Skylar Leichliter, Alex Adams, and Ava Moreal to win the 4×100-meter relay in 53.06 and the Adams sisters competed with senior Rachel Belitz and Leichliter to place third in the 4×200 with a time of 1:57.07.

    “Casey did great,” Crooks said. “She is a really strong person for all of our relays and open events. She’s just a great all-around athlete and asset to our team.”

    Independence won all of the field events, which helped the Blue Devils rack up the points before the running events even began.

    “We have a very strong field event team across the board,” Crooks said. “Everyone is an asset to that and that’s how we rack up the points at the beginning of meets.”

    Also placing among the top three for the Blue Devils were Leichliter (2nd pole vault; 2nd long jump) and Grill (3rd shot put).

    Senior Makenna McGhee teamed up with juniors Lucy Biliunas, Sonia Sajovie, and Raina Makhlouf to place third in the 4×1600-meter relay, and McGhee and senior Paige Westerburg, junior Gabby McGreevy, and sophomore Kate Coljohn placed second in the 4×800.

    McGhee and McGreevy also ran in the distance medley with sophomore Aubrey Stepanik and freshman Maggie Panichi. That team finished second in 11:09.

    Independence’s boys’ team won a pair of sprint events on the way to finishing second behind host Cuyahoga Heights. Heights scored 100 points while the Blue Devils finished with 67. Berkshire was third with 64.

    The Blue Devils won both the 4×100-meter relay and 800 sprint medley.

    Juniors Kyle Zygmunt, Jack Taliaferro, Lucas Martinez, and Emmett Stralka won the 4×100 in 44.67 seconds and then went out and won the 800 sprint medley in 1:37.37, a new school record.

    “We have a very strong sprint team for the boys,” Crooks said. “Their sprint medley came in first but they also broke the school record with their time and we’re looking for that sprint relay to get stronger as we get into the postseason.”

    Martinez also finished second in the pole vault (9-6) and the Blue Devils had several other relay teams finish among the top three.

    Taliaferro and Stralka teamed up with senior Josh Belitz and sophomore Chase Manelski to place second in the 4×200 (1:35.44) and Taliaferro, Stralka, Belitz, and Zygmunt finished as the runner-up in the 4×400 with a time of 3:42.82.

    Seniors P.J. Oschmann and Collin Patton joined sophomores Kyle McGovern and Joe Shumay in placing second in the 4×1600 (21:00.25) and Patton, Oschmann, senior John Eisenmann, and junior Michael Tommer placed second in the boys’ distance medley (8:27.49).

    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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