Friday, February 23, 2024

Wickliffe poised for deep postseason run

Wickliffe lost several key players from last season’s 14-win team but the Blue Devils return eight starters and a total of 17 players with varsity experience.

It’s that depth that has head coach Steve Gribovicz excited to see what his squad can accomplish this fall.

“We have a lot of returning upperclassmen, which puts us in a good position,” Gribovicz said. “We lost some key pieces from last year’s team, but players are ready to step into those roles. Our experience–17 returning players–leads us to believe that we have the potential to make a run at the conference title and hopefully a run in the playoffs that is deeper than in years past.”

Wickliffe finished 14-3-1 overall last season with a 2-1 loss to Cuyahoga Heights in the district semifinals.

Gribovicz has introduced a new strategy this season and Wickliffe’s success depends on how well the Blue Devils adapt.

“One of the challenges we will face this year is going from a positional approach to a tactical approach,” he said. “We plan on overcoming this by having players practice in different positions to get used to moving into new roles this year.”

In addition, the Blue Devils can’t rely on one player to make things happen on the field. Each player will be responsible for distributing the ball and setting up scoring opportunities.

“One key for the team this year will be spreading the wealth around and not being occupied by who has the stats,” Gribovicz said. “We graduated multiple four-year starters that accumulated many stats over their careers. We have to go in with a mindset that we make up for those missing stats collectively and that it is not on one individual to make up that past player’s positional stats.”

Leading the way for the Blue Devils are four returning starters who earned All-Chagrin Valley Conference honors last season.

Junior midfielder Morgan Gabriel, Wickliffe’s offensive player of the year, was named to the first team after scoring nine goals and adding five assists. She also earned second team All-Greater Cleveland honors.

“Morgan came into the preseason more mature and has regularly been more vocal and confident as a field manager to go with her improved ball skills,” Gribovicz said.

Senior forward Ana Stjepanovic and senior midfielder Caitlyn Henderson both were named second-team All-CVC.

Stjepanovic scored four goals and added five assists while Henderson punched in 12 goals with four assists.

“Ana is motivated to improve on last year and has displayed impressive tangibles so far this preseason,” Gribovicz said. “Caitlyn is coming off the second-most points on the team from last season and has come out this preseason ready to pick up where she left off showing more confidence and awareness on the field.”

Senior defender Cassidy Haines earned All-CVC honorable mention and was named the team’s defensive player of the year.

“Cassidy has earned the team captain role by being a leader not only on the field but off it with her teammates and is the anchor to our defensive system this season,” Gribovicz said.

Junior Kaylee Lauriel returns in the net after recording 51 saves and allowing just 1.06 goals per game last season.

“Kaylee continues to develop at the keeper position and is demonstrating improved awareness and decision-making in the back while being more vocal and confident,” Gribovicz said.

With a solid core of talented players, Wickliffe’s lineup is formidable but the Blue Devils can’t take anything for granted.

“All of the players are high character individuals, which already makes this a successful season,” Gribovicz said. “On the field, it will come down to focus, team chemistry, and communication. If these can be consistently maintained throughout the season, I feel the skill and intellect of the players will carry us to a successful overall season in the standings.”

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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