Girls basketball preview: Longtime coach returns to guide talented Apollo-Ridge roster

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Monday, November 23, 2020 | 5:29 PM


Ray Bartha is back on the bench for the Apollo-Ridge varsity girls basketball team.

His first tenure, which ended in 2010, lasted 34 years and included 536 wins, 11 section championships, 23 appearances in the WPIAL playoffs and a WPIAL Class AA title in 1991.

Now, Bartha is leading a new generation of Vikings players he hopes can make some lasting memories of their own.

“Coach Bartha is very structured. He has something planned for every minute of (a workout),” senior multi-year starting guard Morgan Gamble said. “There is no wasted time. The things we do will be effective in getting us ready to play games.”

Bartha in the offseason took over for Mike Monstrola, who moved back to a position in the Apollo-Ridge boys program after one year coaching the girls.

Apollo-Ridge finished the 2019-20 season 11-11 overall and 5-9 in Section 1-4A play.

After the soccer and volleyball seasons concluded, Bartha gathered the players for open gym workouts, but covid issues at the school brought things to a halt. Covid safety measures also will delay the start of practices until Dec. 7.

“The girls were very energetic and enthusiastic through some tough workouts,” said Bartha, who coached the junior high girls team the past three seasons. “Things were pretty positive. Then we got shut down. We’re going to go a month without meeting. That’s 20 to 25 days we’re not going to get back. That’s very frustrating.”

Bartha said he hopes that energy returns when the team gets back on the court in two weeks.

Several December games will either be scrapped or rescheduled as the PIAA-required number of 15 practices before games can be played will most likely take the team to a post-Christmas start.

While the Apollo Trust tournament will not happen at the end of December, Bartha hopes to have games against Leechburg and Saltsburg scheduled during that time.

“We want to get a couple of games in before section play starts,” he said.

Travel concerns for section games a couple of years ago lifted Apollo-Ridge into a Class 4A section with a more local feel. The Vikings, however, are back down in Class 2A and will match up with Greensburg Central Catholic, Ellis School, Winchester Thurston, Jeannette and Springdale.

“With our size and enrollment, it was tough to compete with the schools we were in with,” Bartha said of matchups with the likes of Knoch, Freeport, North Catholic and Indiana. “It was good competition, but we needed to get back down to where we belong.”

Bartha said the team will build around the experience of Gamble, as well as senior guard Emily Bonelli and 6-foot-2 senior forward Madison Marks.

“I can’t wait for (Dec. 7) to get here,” said Gamble, a 3-point threat who scored 16 points a game last year and earned Valley News Dispatch all-star honors.

“I just hope everything falls into place and we’re still able to have a season. I think we have a shot to be pretty good. We have a nice mix of experienced and younger players.”

Brinley Toland earned starting time as a freshman, and Bartha expects her role to increase at point guard.

“She really grew a lot last year and played well,” Bartha said. “This year, she will have the reins to go. We need her to be performing. She’s also going to be one of our top kids for the future.”

Bartha said he’s looking forward to seeing the continued development of returning 5-8 sophomore guard/forward Sydney McCray and the emergence of freshman guard Sophie Yard.

“With Sydney and Sophie being at different positions depending on who we are playing, that may determine who gets the start on a given night or who might be on the floor more,” Bartha said.

Apollo-Ridge girls at a glance

Coach: Ray Bartha

Last year’s record: 11-11 (5-9 Section 1-4A)

Returning starters: Emily Bonelli (Sr., G), Brinley Toland (So., G), Morgan Gamble (Sr., G), Madison Marks (Jr., F)

Top newcomer: Sophie Yard (Fr., G)

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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