Independence will have a lot of unanswered questions when it tips off the 2020-2021 season on Friday against Columbia.
COVID has altered the preseason for all area teams and the Blue Devils are going to make the most of their opportunities to play this winter.
“I feel good about our girls but it’s hard to get a good understanding with scrimmages canceled and players in and out of practice due to precautions,” said Independence head coach Mike Marcinko, who is in his seventh season with the squad. “We have a solid core and need the new players to mesh and contribute if we are to be good. It’s an exciting challenge that the team is up for.”
Independence finished 22-1 overall last winter and won the Chagrin Valley Conference Metro Division with a perfect 16-0 record.
The Blue Devils return three starters and three others with varsity experience.
Marcinko will learn on returning starters Riccela DiGeronimo, Madison Stepanik and Anna Weber to lead the way.
“Youth and depth is the challenge,” Marcinko said. “We have great young ladies with limited experience that will need to learn quickly and impact the game regularly. Leaning on (DiGeronimo), Madison and Anna will be the recipe. They have the varsity experience and success. They will need to lead the way, be productive and teach as we progress through the season.”
DiGeronimo, a 5-foot-7 senior guard, enters her fourth year of varsity basketball.
She was named first-team All-CVC after scoring nine points per game with three rebounds and three steals last season.
“(DiGeronimo) is athletic, smart and a good leader for us,” Marcinko said. “She will be called on to be a total player this season–score, defend and lead.”
Stepanik, a 5-foot-11 senior center, averaged 11 points and seven rebounds per game last year while Weber, a 5-foot-11 junior guard, scored seven points with five rebounds, two assists and two steals per contest in being named second-team All-CVC.
“Madison provides size and athleticism for us. She will be counted on as a force inside for the team,” Marcinko said. “Anna is a well-rounded player that we will reply on at both ends of the floor. Her versatility lets us to use her in multiple positions, allowing her to be creative. She can be an impactful player in the CVC.”
Sophomores Natalie George, a 5-foot-6 guard, and Kara DeSmith, a 5-foot-7 guard, round out the projected starting lineup.
“Natalie is a dynamic athlete with a great motor,” Marcinko said. “That energy will be needed to log a lot of floor time and run the show for us.”
Adding depth for the Blue Devils are juniors Alex Adams and Kenzie McMahon and sophomores Addie Westerburg, Kate Coljohn, and Ashley Adams.
Alex Adams is a 5-foot-6 guard while McMahon is a 5-foot-6 forward.
“Alex provides speed and defensive tenacity to the team. She can play with or without the ball offensively and defend all over the floor,” Marcinko said. “Kenzie offers us tremendous knowledge and communication for the team. She directs us defensively and offensively and does all the dirty work and finds ways to score.”
Westerburg is a 5-foot-9 forward, Coljohn is a 5-foot-7 guard and Ashley Adams is a 5-foot-7 forward.
“Addie is becoming a versatile player, impacting the game inside and out. She will play many important minutes for us and make a difference at both ends of the floor,” Marcinko said. “Kate has the ability to string jumpers together. That skill will be needed as a starter or off the bench for us to be as competitive as we want to be. Ashley is very scrappy and can shoot the ball. She adds a solid defensive effort and a jump shot to the mix.”
Independence hopes to repeat as CVC championship in 2021 and to do that the Blue Devils will have to stay focused and work hard throughout the season.
“We always view the CVC as the most important thing we prepare and practice for every day,” Marcinko said. “We take it game by game and want to win as many games as we can.”