Thursday, December 7, 2023

Independence has talent, depth

Independence opens the 2018-2019 season with three returning starters, four others with varsity experience and an optimistic outlook.

“I’m very positive about our start to the preseason,” said fifth-year head coach Mike Marcinko. “Staying healthy and playing to our potential could set us up for a successful winter.”

The Blue Devils, who finished 14-8 overall and 9-5 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division last winter, return an experienced squad with plenty of talent and depth.

That combination could lead to great things.

“We definitely have some experience with three returning starters,” Marcinko said. “This year we may be the deepest we have ever been in terms of varsity contributors. Hopefully, that will translate into energetic defense and up-tempo play with the depth of players.”

Independence’s keys to victory aren’t much different than what every other team must focus on to be successful.

The Blue Devils must value the basketball, limit turnovers and create possessions.

“That will be a challenge that we will drill mentally and physically all season,” Marcinko said.

Juniors Riley Wilson and Haylee Dmitruk and sophomore Riccela DiGeronimo all return to the starting lineup this season.

Wilson, a forward, earned first team All-CVC honors last winter after she averaged 13 points, eight rebounds and two steals per game.

“Riley is a long, athletic player that impacts the game in a big way offensively and defensively,” Marcinko said. “If we are to have a good season, she will need to lead the way.”

Dmitruk was named honorable mention All-CVC after recording seven points and three assists per game from her point guard position.

“Haylee makes us go,” Marcinko said. “As the point guard, she possesses the ball the majority of the time, balancing scoring and creating shots for others as well.”

DiGeronimo is a well-balanced guard. She averaged nine points, two assists, three steals and five rebounds per contest last winter.

“(Riccela) is our most consistent performer,” Marcinko said. “She contributes in all aspects of the game and provides stability as well as explosive play.”

Senior guard Erica Esper also is expected to fill a spot in the starting lineup. She averaged four points and two rebounds per game last year while shooting 38-percent from behind the arc.

“Erica is our best 3-point threat,” Marcinko said. “She does a very good job of reading screens and hunting her spots to get quality shots for us.”

The starting rotation will be filled in the near future.

Senior guard Amy Ksiazka, senior center Kaitlyn Richards, junior guard Reni Kaiser, junior guard Brook Pillar, sophomore center Madison Stepanik and freshman guard Anna Weber all will compete for that spot and provide depth for the Blue Devils.

Ksiazka is a defensive stopper with an improved offensive skill set. She averaged two points and two rebounds per game last year.

Richards averaged five points and three rebounds and provides the Blue Devils with some size in the paint.

“Kaitlyn will be counted on to be a key rebounder and rim protector for us,” Marcinko said. “Her experience and presence will be counted on in the paint.”

Kaiser averaged two points and three rebounds per game last winter and is one of Independence’s top defenders.

“Reni is a high-energy defender and ball handler for us,” Marcinko said. “Her experience last year lends to her communication on the floor and getting us in and out of defenses.”

Pillar has recovered from an ankle injury and can fill several different roles for the Blue Devils. Stepanik split time between JV and varsity last winter and brings more athleticism to the squad.

Weber has the potential to make an impact in her first season of high school basketball.

“Anna brings good skills and understanding to the team,” Marcinko said. “She has a chance to make a positive impact in our program and in the CVC.”

The Blue Devils hope to compete for the CVC Valley Division title this winter then make a deep postseason run.

It all starts with the fundamentals.

“Value the basketball, defend aggressively and get out in transition,” Marcinko said.

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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