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Apollo-Ridge coach eager to start tenure

It’s not easy replacing a legendary coach, but Desiree Syster is eager to maintain Apollo-Ridge’s winning ways in girls basketball.

Syster takes over for Ray Bartha, who retired after last season when the Vikings went 10-2 in Section 1-AA play and 18-4 overall. The season ended with a 42-41 loss to South Fayette.

“It’s both exciting — and a little daunting,” Syster said.

Bartha coached 34 seasons, won 534 career games and made 23 WPIAL playoff appearances. Apollo-Ridge remains the only Armstrong County high school to capture a WPIAL girls basketball title, winning in 1991.

Syster was an assistant to Bartha the past four seasons, a 2001 graduate of Apollo-Ridge and a member of two playoff teams herself.

“Ray actually did a great job with his program, and I want to give the girls the same opportunities,” Syster said. “We were all used to being in the playoffs and used to being successful. It was nice to be with him for a few years before he retired.”

But Syster and the Vikings will be battling inexperience as the new season approaches. All five starters and the top reserve from last season’s team graduated, including Valley News Dispatch Player of the Year Hannah Shaffer.

The only experienced player returning is senior Beth Schrecengost, who looks to take over at one of the guard spots. Junior Lexi Orlowski and Sophomore Sarah Bonelli also saw some varsity minutes last season.

Syster will be assisted by Kristen Shoe. Both coaches also are teachers in the Apollo-Ridge system.

Syster, one of the WPIAL’s youngest head coaches, will make her debut Dec. 10 when the Vikings host Springdale in the Dynamo Tip-Off tournament at 6:30 p.m.

Apollo-Ridge begins Section 1-AA play Dec. 16 at Freeport, then opens the section home season Dec. 20 against Deer Lakes.

The Vikings will be part of the annual Apollo Trust tournament over Christmas break, renewing a holiday event that has taken place for more than 35 years.

Syster and her team will play five of six games on the home court during one January stretch.


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