With new coach, veteran roster, Apollo-Ridge girls eye return trip to playoffs

Monday, November 18, 2019 | 8:01 PM

Mike Monstrola served as a coach for the Apollo-Ridge junior high boys basketball program last year, but he often made it a point to take in games involving the Vikings boys and girls varsity teams.

So when he was hired as the new girls coach over the summer, he was very familiar with what he would have to work with.

“We’re very fortunate to have a mix of experience and new players who are hungry to show what they can do,” said Monstrola, who began preseason practices Monday with a team of a dozen players, including four who started games last year as the Vikings went 15-8 and qualified for the playoffs playing up a classification in Section 1-4A.

“I am really looking forward to seeing how this team comes together.”

Monstrola, a Plum graduate and physical education teacher in the Apollo-Ridge school district, takes over for Jim Callipare, who resigned shortly after last season. Callipare, who led Apollo-Ridge to a 73-65 record and five playoff appearances in his six seasons, said the desire to watch his daughter Jaylen, a senior point guard at Armstrong, play her final high school season was a leading reason for his decision.

“I hope to continue what Coach Callipare has done and help continue creating a winning and successful environment,” Monstrola said. “It was a smooth transition. The girls really have been picking things up pretty well. I didn’t want to over-complicate things. We still have a lot of work to do, but there are a lot of positives to build on.

The first week of practices lead into a scrimmage Saturday at 1 p.m. at Deer Lakes.

“This week of practices will really set the tone for the season,” said senior guard/forward Rylee Eaton, who was second to graduated Maddy Moore in scoring last season at 10.1 points a game. “We have to take advantage of every minute that we’re in the gym.”

Eaton and juniors Emily Bonelli (guard), Morgan Gamble (guard) and Madison Marks (forward) started games last year.

“They are the leaders on this team,” Monstrola said. “They are not only working to improve their games, but they are also working with the freshmen to help them get caught up on what we are doing and showing what they need to bring to every practice in terms of effort.”

Gamble averaged 7.9 points and made 28 3-pointers, and Marks averaged 6.6 points and 4.8 rebounds.

“Coach Monstrola said nothing was guaranteed just because we all started games last year,” Eaton said. “We took that as motivation, basically a kick in the butt. We understood that we weren’t going to just be given anything.”

Monstrola said a pair of seniors — forward Cassie Booth and guard Kylee Wynn — are back and in the mix for playing time in a starting or reserve role.

A group of freshmen, Monstrola added, will get their chance to figure into the rotation.

Apollo-Ridge finished tied with Greensburg Salem and Knoch for third in the section standings last year at 7-7. All three made the playoffs, along with section champion North Catholic (14-0) and runner-up Freeport (12-2).

Apollo-Ridge hopes to get back to the playoffs and make a deeper run. It suffered a 40-37 first-round loss to Southmoreland last year.

“I remember from last year’s games how it was neck and neck with a lot of teams in the section,” Monstrola said. “One turnover here or one missed shot there can be the difference. The section will be tough and a challenge again.”

Apollo-Ridge also scrimmages West Shamokin on Dec. 2 before opening its season Dec. 6 against Valley at the Springdale Tip-Off Tournament. Lincoln Park and the host Dynamos will match up in the other semifinal.

The championship and consolation games will be Dec. 7.

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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