Independence’s girls’ basketball team enters the 2014-2015 season with a new coach but the same goals.
The Blue Devils, who finished 16-8 overall last season, expect to compete for the Chagrin Valley Conference Metro Division championship and look to make a deep run in the post-season.
“I think No. 1, we want to be a better team in February than we are now,” said Independence head coach Mike Marcinko. “Whether you’re measuring that statistically or by record or whatever, we want to make progress. Record-wise, you want to win as many games as you can. You get in this to win and have some fun. You hopefully win enough games that you’re hopefully sniffing around at a conference championship. It will progress as the year goes on but if you don’t go in with a little bit of confidence and set your goals a little bit high it’s no fun. We talk about winning as many as we can and playing as well as we can to put ourselves in position that we can knock on the door and fight for a conference title.”
Marcinko inherited a team with three seniors and four juniors, most of whom saw plenty of varsity action last season.
Heading into Tuesday’s opener, Marcinko likes what he has seen out of the girls as they learn new offensive and defensive systems.
“They’re good kids. They work hard. They’re very enthusiastic and want to do well. I know it can’t be easy transitioning, so I think that’s been a burden getting started,” he said. “I’m sure there are some things that are similar but anytime you are changing what you’re doing there is going to be a transition period.”
Marcinko has slowly introduced the girls to his style of play and he’ll add more as the season progresses.
“We’ve tried to be extremely simple,” he said. “The mantra early on has been effort, pace and urgency and that’s what we’ve been kind of focusing on more so than X’s and O’s. I think that’s coming. I think we’re getting to where we want to be as far as what speed we want to play at and hopefully we’ll have a level of intensity and urgency in our feet and in our head.”
Having the three seniors with a load of minutes under their belts has helped the process. Forward Halle Dorko and guards Victoria Sirna and Nicole Ferrara form the core of the team.
“I think that group obviously has a ton to offer beside their experience,” Marcinko said. “They all have their little niche as to what they do and how they’re productive on the floor.”
Dorko is the team’s returning leading scorer after scoring 11.8 points per game last season.
“She’s a very good athlete. She’s a fighter. She’s a competitor,” Marcinko said. “Vocally and physically she’s a leader. She’s talking in practice and she’s flying around the gym. She shows the younger kids how to play and how to get after it.”
Ferrara averaged 5.0 points per game and is one of the team’s best defenders.
“She’s another one that flies around the gym,” Marcinko said. “Physically, she’s being a leader, running the hardest, playing the hardest, diving. It doesn’t matter who she’s matched up against she defends; she boxes out and gets to the rim.”
Sirna is one of the most versatile players on the team. She averaged 4.3 points per game last season.
“She has shown that she can shoot it so I think we’ll try to feed off of her and try to create some shots for her,” Marcinko said. “She’s coming off volleyball and hasn’t had the ball in her hands very long so she’s still trying to get her feet under her but she’s shown glimpses of shooting the three.”
Juniors Hallie Zumack, Julia Riley, Olivia Jones and Anna Massey also are expected to see a lot of minutes this season.
Zumack averaged 6.6 points per game last season.
“She got a lot of time last year and I don’t see any change in that,” Marcinko said. “She’s another hard worker. She creates shots for herself, she rebounds, she talks, which is great. The girls in general don’t always scream on the floor as far as communicating defenses and offenses but she does.”
Massey averaged just over four points per game while Riley averaged 3.0 and Jones contributed with 2.7 points per contest.
Sophomore Jess Dmitruk will help the Blue Devils out under the hoop.
“I think Jess is going to get a fair amount of time,” Marcinko said. “She has a way around the rim. She can board, she defends and scores. She has the ability to make a difference for us. She gets her nose in there.”
Offensively, the Blue Devils will likely experience some ups and downs as they implement an offense that best suits their personnel.
That’s why Marcinko has emphasized defense.
“In all honestly, (the offense is) still developing,” he said. “We kind of focused on the defensive end the first couple of weeks. The offense is starting to take shape because you start figuring out who can do what and who can’t do what. We want to be up tempo and we want to get out and run as much as we possibly can, which means we have to defend and get the defensive rebound so we’ve spent most of our time on that end.”
On defense, the Blue Devils will work hard to disrupt their opponent’s offense with a focus on forcing turnovers.
“We’re going to try to apply ball pressure as much as we can,” Marcinko said. “That’s been a trick in practice to enforce and get the girls to apply ball pressure and not worry about getting beat and be able to rely on the people behind them to help. We’ll be all man and we’ll probably do some pressing off and on. That’s kind of where we’ve been right now.”
With a challenging schedule ahead of them, the Blue Devils have their work cut out for them to achieve their goals.
The CVC Metro Division is expected to be more competitive than in the past with Beachwood, Cuyahoga Heights and Richmond Heights all returning loaded teams and Hawken and Wickliffe on the rise.
“Any which way you look and turn you’re going to play talented people and well-coached teams,” Marcinko said. “Every day you’ve got to be ready to go and we’ve got to be prepared.”