Thursday, December 7, 2023

Girls Basketball Preview: Independence Blue Devils

Independence opens the 2023-2024 season with four returning starters and three other players with varsity experience.

That returning talent, coupled with the competitive edge the Blue Devils closed out last season with, has second-year head coach Hugh McMahon eager to see what his squad can accomplish this winter.

“I really like the competitive spirit the ladies showed at the end of last season and have carried over to this year. I believe we will be in the hunt for the league (title),” said McMahon, who previously coached the Independence boys’ team. “We have a good grasp of our style of play on both sides of the ball. This should allow us to add several wrinkles to our game plans.”

Injuries have hit the Blue Devils early in the preseason and that’s an issue McMahon hopes to avoid throughout the long season.

“Our most significant challenge this season will be to get and keep everyone healthy,” he said. “With a few ladies banged up currently we will have to traverse the rehab terrain.”

Returning starters include senior Casey Adams, juniors Paige Priebe and Addison Walker, and sophomore Emily Gibbons.

Adams is a 5-foot-9 forward with the ability to lock down opposing shooters. One of the most athletic female athletes in Northeast Ohio, Adams has earned All-Ohio honors in both soccer and track & field.

“Casey is a top, college-level athlete,” McMahon said. “She can control the game on the defensive end of the court. As a team captain, Casey is a natural leader.”

Priebe, a 5-foot-7 point guard, finished second on the team scoring and rebounds last season on the way to earning honorable mention All-Chagrin Valley Conference honors.

“Paige is an elite athlete who gained valuable experience as our point guard last season,” McMahon said. “She can score inside and out. We are expecting her experience to translate to greater leadership on and off the court this season.”

Walker, a 5-foot-7 guard, is dangerous from behind the 3-point arc but also thrives driving to the hoop.

“Addie has great court awareness making her a good passer and someone that can find multiple places on the floor to score from,” McMahon said.

Gibbons, a 5-foot-6 guard, plays intensely on both ends of the court.

“Emily is an intense competitor,” McMahon said. “She is a fierce defender and finds numerous ways to score.”

Senior Makena Rini, a 5-foot-7 forward, rounds out the projected starting lineup.

“Makena has great speed and slashing ability,” McMahon said. “She has the tools to be a top-flight defender, which can make her dangerous on both ends of the court.”

Providing depth for the Blue Devils are seniors Mandy Kaufman and Emily Richards, juniors Alexa Johnson, Alexandria Velez, and Macey McGhee, and sophomores Lucy Spencer and Elyse Grill.

Kaufman is a 5-foot-9 forward while Richards is a 5-foot-7 wing who joined for the first time after focusing on volleyball as an underclassman.

“Mandy can stretch the floor as a great shooter and will provide some need length in guarding taller players,” McMahon said. “Emily provides athleticism, enthusiasm, and a high level of intellect in her first year in the program. She has picked things up at an incredible pace.”

Johnson is a 5-foot-4 guard, Velez is a 5-foot-6 forward, and McGhee is a 5-foot-4 guard.

“Alexa has given the program a tremendous lift. In her first year in the program, she has already shown to be a feisty defender and a great shooter,” McMahon said. “Alex has made incredible strides each year in the program. She is a physical presence in the post for us. Macey will provide high-percentage shooting from 3-point land. She has a great understanding of what we are trying to accomplish which is shown in her being in the right position all the time.”

Spencer is a 5-foot-9 forward and Grill is a 5-foot-8 wing.

“Lucy is a physical, aggressive basketball player. She attacks both the offensive and defensive boards and can score inside or out having worked hard on her outside shot,” McMahon said. “Elyse is athletic which allows us to play her at multiple positions. She has worked hard to make herself a good shooter and is an enthusiastic defender.”

Independence heads into the new season focused on competing for the CVC Metro Division title.

“We will need to maximize our improvement with every rep in practice which should keep us healthy while producing the necessary development,” McMahon said. “We must continue to accept the challenge of playing pressure defense as well as playing an intelligent up-tempo offensive style.”




Steve Hare
Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. 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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