Independence took another step on Wednesday in its march back to the state Final Four by sweeping visiting Chippewa in a Division III district semifinal.
With the 25-12, 25-14, 25-13 win, the Blue Devils will play in their fourth straight district championship match. Independence is 3-0 in the previous three championship matches.
“At this stage in the season, I think the team is confident in our abilities and in knowing what we are capable of doing,” said sophomore outside hitter Sammy Barther. “Even though we have confidence, we do not look down upon any of our opponents and we believe there’s always room for improvement.”
It’s that room for improvement that motivates the Blue Devils in every match.
“We’re confident but we know we will have to be better moving forward as the competition increases,” said sophomore middle blocker Grace Taliaferro. “The playoffs are what we play for and put everything into. Coach (Anthony Messina) always preaches to us before games that we have to get focused, and due to our success these past couple of years, we know we have a target on our back and can’t take any plays off and have to come out focused and ready to play every match.”
Independence, who improved to 21-3 overall, lived up to the challenge against Chippewa.
The Blue Devils played a clean game in all facets of the match.
“I thought we were solid in all areas but we always have things that we can improve on,” Taliaferro said. “Our defense and passers did a good job tonight of getting the ball to Abby (Avila), so that she could spread the ball around to the hitters. We’ll continue to work on setter-hitter connection, ball control, defense, and communication so that we can be the best that we can be moving deeper into the playoffs. We have great leadership with the upperclassmen on this team. They’ve all been a part of this program for a while and have done a great job of leading and helping the underclassmen, like myself, feel welcome and comfortable playing.”
Barter, Taliaferro, Grace Smotek and the other Independence hitters had a big night.
“As a team, our communication with each other was a key in helping us succeed,” Barther said. “We played as a whole and talked to each other every play. Stepping up in the playoffs is very exciting for me. I go into every game giving it my all to help the team get to where we want to be, and every game is one step closer to that point.”
Avila has turned into quite a weapon for the Blue Devils and she uses all of the hitters at her disposal.
“It was a great team win,” Taliaferro said. “Our passers did a good job of getting the ball to Abby. Abby is a great setter and always does a great job of communicating with the hitters to figure out which plays to run based on the defense on the other side. She is a great leader and hard worker. I hope I can keep contributing and helping the team in whatever way I can.”
Independence advanced to play Brookside in the district championship for the second straight season.
The Blue Devils won last season’s district title, 25-10, 25-19, 25-9.
As the district’s top seed, Independence isn’t taking anyone lightly.
“To stay focused in the postseason, we come into practice every day and work our hardest, not taking any team for granted,” Barther said. “When it’s game day, the moment we step on the court, we zone in and act as if every game is our last.”
With back-to-back state runner-up finishes, Independence is eager to get another shot at winning that elusive state title.
It’s that drive that keeps the players focused at practice and hungry to play their best in every match.
“We know that we have been so close to getting the job done, and we haven’t taken that next step yet,” Taliaferro said. “Every match is a progression in us getting to that next step. We know every match that we have to be focused and get the job done so that we can keep progressing and, ultimately, reach our goal and take care of some unfinished business. We’re very excited and grateful for the opportunity to play on Saturday. One match at a time. One set at a time. One play at a time.”