Lots of opportunities await for Apollo-Ridge boys basketball team

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Monday, November 22, 2021 | 7:03 PM


The Apollo-Ridge boys basketball team was hit hard by graduation, as much of its starting lineup, including four players who played all 16 games and accounted for 819 of the 915 points the team scored last season, moved on.

But coach Greg Fox said new opportunities have created competitive early-season practices as the Vikings get set to play games in a little more than two weeks.

“Because of the graduation, it opened all five spots for those players next in line,” Fox said.

“A number of the kids took advantage of the work over the summer. It created really good competition in workouts and games and now in practices.”

Apollo-Ridge, led by then-seniors Klay Fitzroy, Jake Fello, Keighton Reese and Dom Reiter, finished 10-6 overall last season and 7-4 in Section 3-3A.

The Vikings defeated Beth-Center in a preliminary-round game of the WPIAL’s open-playoff format before falling to section rival Shady Side Academy in the first round.

Last season was full of uncertainties because of the covid pandemic, and a statewide shutdown in December complicated progress.

Fox hopes that despite covid still being a lingering nemesis, a return to more normal practice and game situations will stick.

“It feels great that there is some normalcy right now with preseason practices and preparing the schedule, things like that,” Fox said. “There still always is that hesitancy because we still are quarantining kids at school, and things are still happening. Things can change all the time, so we need to be vigilant and do what we can to stay healthy and on the court.”

Gage Johnston, a 6-foot-3 junior, led the returnees last year with 4.0 points per game, and he added 4.1 rebounds a game.

“We’re going to need a lot of guys to step up to get to where we want to be,” Johnston said. “A bunch of guys are going to have different minutes. I am excited for it to happen. I’ve been waiting for the season to come since the end of football. Now, we’re all ready to go.”

Johnston and senior Gavin McCall got starting time last year, Fox said, and they will be joined by sophomore Karter Schrock and junior Jake Mull as candidates to take over starting roles.

Fox said seniors Bradey Schrock and Matt Burkholder, junior Michael Fryer and sophomore Luke Fox also will challenge for minutes.

Colton Neil, a senior, didn’t play last year but is back this season. Fellow seniors Nick and Zack Clawson and Nathan Kavulic also hope to make an impact.

Senior Wryder Frickanisce was expected to be in the rotation, but a broken hand suffered in the offseason required surgery, and he is expected to miss the season.

“The time on the court is valuable, and they understand that,” coach Fox said. “Because of what we lost, we are implementing some new things, and the kids are learning and paying attention. The enthusiasm and effort are there right now. It will be a work in progress, but things are coming along. They are working hard.”

Fox said he is looking forward to the team’s scrimmages Dec. 1 against Leechburg and Derry and then Dec. 3 against Burrell.

Apollo-Ridge again will do battle in Section 3 with East Allegheny, Ligonier Valley, Shady Side Academy, South Allegheny, Steel Valley and Valley.

Shady Side is the defending section champion and reached the WPIAL quarterfinals a year ago.

“Our section, we think, is pretty strong,” coach Fox said. “I think Shady Side will be a top-ranked team. They are loaded. Steel Valley also has a ton of kids back. There are some teams who can make a serious run, too. It will be a challenge every night.”

Apollo-Ridge will kick off its season Dec. 10-11 at the Leechburg tournament.

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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