by Dan Holland
For Independence High School boys’ varsity volleyball head coach Lexi Prokopius, taking her team to the state semifinals in its inaugural season exceeded her greatest expectations.
“It was probably more memorable for me than my own playing days. Those boys will always have that memory, and I’ll have that memory as well,” said Prokopius. “And making school history was just awesome.”
The Blue Devils, who closed out their season with an 11-5 record, lost 3-0 to Columbus St. Francis DeSales in the D-II semifinals held May 27 at Wittenberg University by scores of 25-17, 25-14 and 25-6. The 2022-23 school year was the first year that boys’ varsity volleyball was Ohio High School Athletic Association sanctioned.
Prokopius, who played varsity volleyball all four years while at Independence High School and went on to play at Daemen University in New York, was head coach of the girls’ volleyball program at Cuyahoga Heights High School for two seasons prior to being offered the start-up position in Independence.
“Just seeing their progression and how the boys came in on day one ready to learn this new sport and seeing them overcome the difficulties of learning all aspects of the sport was great,” said Prokopius. “And then taking it game by game and seeing them succeed against schools that have had a program in place, and being able to get the wins was very encouraging.”
The team’s initial home match was a memorable one, she said.
“Independence did such a great job of making it so special,” she recalled. “They had inflatables and a hype video that they showed. Beyond that, it was seeing the boys succeed in the little things at practice or in games.”
Only one player, Cubby Tripodi, had previous playing experience in the sport. “Him stepping up into a role that he had never played before, as our center, helped a lot. And also, just the boys having an open mind and being so respectful helped in them taking it seriously through the whole season,” Prokopius said.
Some of the key players in leading the team to the state semifinals included Tripodi, Landon Jatsek, Sonny Sears, Wyatt Snyder and Joe Spacagna.
“I feel like every player made a contribution in getting us to the state semifinals; I tried to play everyone in every game that I could,” said Prokopius. “With all but one player not having prior playing skills – just for all of them to be able to develop those skills in as fast as two months’ time and then just continuing to develop to make it to the playoffs was awesome.”
Prokopius said the team included two seniors, but she expects at least ten players to return next year in addition to new tryouts.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the returners keep developing and progressing as players,” she said. “I’m also excited to see all the new players that want to try the sport and see how they take on a role on the team as well.”
“Volleyball was my life for a while, and I wasn’t quite ready to put it away,” she added. “So, coaching is probably the most rewarding way to keep myself active in the sport.” ∞
Photo: The players shows off their D-II regional champions plaque and medals. Also pictured are head coach Lexi Prokopius (far right) and her younger sister, assistant coach Callie Prokopius (far left). Callie was a fill-in coach during the regional tournament. Photo submitted.