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Apollo-Ridge girls aim to repeat strong start, avoid lapses this season

VNDARbball2118114
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Apollo-Ridge's Julie Demeno breaks to the hoop during their practice at the high school in Kiski Township on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014.
VNDARbball4118114
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Apollo-Ridge's Claire Broman breaks to the hoop during their practice at the high school in Kiski Township on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014.
VNDARbball3118114
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Apollo-Ridge's Megan Bonelli breaks to the hoop during their practice at the high school in Kiski Township on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014.

Save for a bumpy, midseason patch on the schedule and a preliminary-round playoff loss, Jim Callipare is pleased with how his first season went as girls basketball coach at Apollo-Ridge.

He has much greater expectations for year No. 2.

Last year, the Lady Vikings (14-8) started 9-1 but dropped five straight. A late-season run helped them finish fourth in Section 1-AA and get into the playoffs.

Callipare thinks that type of start will be a challenge to repeat, especially with a move to a new section. But he also doesn’t think busting out of the gates is as crucial.

“I thought that was very important last year … we wanted to come in right away and change the culture, expectations and direction of the program,” he said. “I hope that we get off to another fast start, but I don’t see it being as critical as the girls now believe in our coaching philosophy. We have built up a level of trust that we didn’t have last year at this time.”

Like the boys team, Apollo-Ridge is plentiful at guard and will rely on pressure defense.

“Hopefully (strong guard play) allows us to put some pressure on teams and control the overall tempo of the games,” Callipare said.

Three of the top four scorers return in senior point guard Julie Demeno (12.4 ppg), senior guard Claire Broman (6.9) and junior guard Megan Bonelli (6.2). Bonelli is a standout soccer goalkeeper and was a kicker on the football team.

Defense was a strong point against most teams last year as the Vikings allowed just 35.2 points per game. Only Ford City (33.3) and Burrell allowed fewer (35.0). Ford City’s average includes a shutout against Leechburg.

“We will do most of the same things because we want to have a solid foundation and philosophy to build on,” Callipare said. “However, we always try to incorporate some new things on offense and defense from year to year to keep teams off balance and utilize the strengths of each team we may have from year to year.”

Ashley Emminger was the top scorer last season (10.5 points) but moved on to play at Saint Vincent College. Another key graduate was Rachel Moore (Geneva).

To help offset those losses, Callipare will lean on 5-foot-10 senior forward Bri Fairman and junior Mariah Laird, who the coach said has the “inside track” on the other starting forward spot. In-the-paint depth will come from freshman Megan Ost and Teresa Desimone, a transfer from Highlands.

Other reserves include senior guards Adrianna Martin and Reanna Martin, and junior Zabreanna Venzel, a guard-forward.

While the WPIAL realigned, it did the Vikings no favors. WPIAL runner-up Burrell remains in the same section — 2-AA — and perennial power Greensburg Central Catholic moves in to make things top-heavy.

“I believe Burrell and Greensburg Central will not only be the front runners in the section but may be two of the top four teams in all of Class AA,” Callipare said. “This will be a great challenge for us, but we are cautiously optimistic about being competitive and in the running for a return trip to the playoffs.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at [email protected].

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