Independence enters the 2018 season with eight returning starters and some lofty goals.
Those goals can be met but it won’t be easy to unseat defending Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division champion Berkshire, who finished the regular season 16-0 and beat the Blue Devils twice in 2017, once in the regular season and again in a Division III district semifinal.
“We have the potential to win the conference and the district if we are in shape and focused,” said 13th-year head coach Bryan Less. “As a whole, we did not do the needed work this summer, so we need to pick up the intensity to meet expectations for the season.”
Last season, Independence had a large group of freshmen contributors.
Those players now have a season of varsity soccer under their belts and have led the way during the preseason.
“The sophomore class has shown the most drive and intensity so far,” Less said. “The rest of the team needs to meet this group in these attributes. We also need to increase team speed and be aggressive on defense (to be successful).”
Junior midfielder Molly Dougherty is among the most decorated players returning in 2018.
As a sophomore, Dougherty recorded seven goals and 15 assists in earning first team All-CVC and first team all-district honors.
“Molly has outstanding field vision and can make fantastic passes,” Less said. “Her school record-tying assist numbers last season attest to this. She plays well on both sides of the ball and is only the second junior to be voted as a captain by the team in school history.”
Sophomore forwards Riccela DiGeronimo and Paige Westerburg both earned second team All-CVC honors last season.
DiGeronimo, who also was named second team All-Greater Cleveland, recorded 15 goals and seven assists.
“With a continuously improving game, Riccela has a chance to be one of the best players in school history,” Less said. “Her foot skills and outside shot have taken a large jump since last year.”
Westerburg, an honorable mention All-Greater Cleveland award winner, scored 12 goals and assisted on five others.
“Paige has seen an increase in her foot speed this year,” Less said. “This should help the team finish breakaway situations that we did not have last season. She is also the first sophomore to be named a captain in school history, showing her work ethic and team-first mentality.”
Independence has two postseason award winners returning in the midfield.
Sophomore Makenna McGhee was named second team All-Greater Cleveland after contributing with five goals and five assists last season and junior Erin Zygmunt earned second team All-CVC honors. She scored three goals as a sophomore.
“Makenna has outstanding ball control and is one of the best passers I have ever coached. She has increased her foot speed this season and I expect her to continue to help lead the offense to success,” Less said. “Erin is a very dynamic player who can be both physical and subtle in her soccer play. When in shape, Erin is a game changer on the field.”
Junior Marisa Silvestro rounds out the projected starters in the midfield. She scored seven goals with two assists last season.
“Marisa is a very intense player who holds high expectations for herself,” Less said. “She should continue to progress as a player this season, bringing a higher level of offense to the team.”
On the backend, sophomore Rachel Belitz is back after earning honorable mention All-CVC honors as a freshman. She’ll be joined by senior Lauren St. Andrew.
“Even after missing half the season with a concussion, Rachel was still one of the better freshmen I have coached. She transitioned to defense very well but may see some time on offense this season. She will play anywhere I ask and is very intense on the field,” Less said. “Lauren has spent her career playing midfield and defense and finished last season as a starting outside back. She works hard on the field.”
Freshman Alex Adams also is expected to contribute to the team’s success.
“She can play any position and will probably see the most time at center defender or forward,” Less said.
Junior Reni Kaiser spent last season transitioning into a goalkeeper.
She returns this season as a seasoned keeper with 112 saves and two shutouts to her credit. She also earned honorable mention All-CVC honors last fall.
“Reni works very hard in the net and the only game in the field saw her score two goals,” Less said. “She is very confident with her feet and should see a rise in her ability to take balls out of the air this season.”