With roster intact from playoff team, Apollo-Ridge girls expect big season

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Monday, November 14, 2022 | 9:37 PM


Not a single member of last year’s Apollo-Ridge girls basketball team was lost to graduation.

The youthful Vikings capped a 16-7 overall season with a trip to the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals and a berth in the PIAA tournament.

With everyone back, energy and anticipation is high for the upcoming season. Senior guard/forward Sydney McCray is optimistic the team can take that next step.

“That experience we have will help us improve on what we did last year,” said McCray, who averaged 10.5 points per game and 5.6 rebounds a contest. “It allows us to keep that same energy and chemistry, and I think we have the ability to take it further in the playoffs.”

McCray, senior point guard Brinley Toland and junior guard Sophie Yard return to form the core of the 15-member roster.

Toland was a Valley News Dispatch second-team all-star last year after averaging 14.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.6 steals. She shot 74% (74 of 100) from the free-throw line.

“I think we have the pieces to have a pretty good season,” Toland said. “I am really excited. We have to keep pushing ourselves and work as a team in practice. We have a lot of players who are even skill-wise.”

Yard garnered VND third-team laurels. She scored 11.9 points a game.

Seniors Delaney Fitzroy and Jaden Mull and sophomore Kylar Toland also return after holding down starting spots last year.

Mull’s steal of a pass late in the Vikings’ 40-39 WPIAL first-round game against Fort Cherry sealed the win and sent them to the quarterfinals.

“I think we can be pretty deep in the rotation this year,” McCray said.

Of the 15 on the roster, nine are either sophomores (3) or freshmen (6).

One of those sophomores, guard/forward Paige Crawford, recovered throughout the fall from a concussion suffered over the summer.

Bartha said freshman Mya McClain, a 5-foot-7 forward, could have the opportunity to make her mark on varsity.

Junior guard/forward Malea Venziani is another returnee hoping to make an impact in the lineup.

When the sections and classifications were realigned in the offseason, Apollo-Ridge was very much affected.

Gone are matchups with Greensburg Central Catholic, Winchester Thurston, Ellis, Springdale and Jeannette.

When the new alignment numbers came out, the Vikings were just two students over the line between Class 2A and Class 3A.

They were bumped up to Class 3A and will face Burrell, Deer Lakes, Ligonier Valley, Mt. Pleasant and Shady Side Academy.

SSA made the Class 3A playoffs last year, and Deer Lakes took part in the Class 4A playoffs.

“I thought getting away from GCC and Winchester was going to be a blessing, but no matter where you go, you have to play somebody good,” Bartha said.

Burrell, Mt. Pleasant and Ligonier Valley all dropped down from Class 4A.

“I am hoping for a lot of close games,” McCray said. “The close games get the adrenaline up and help you play better.”

An earlier start to the season — the first play date for games is Dec. 2 — means a compressed preseason with just two weeks of official practices and scrimmages. Then throw in a lost day of work Thanksgiving Day.

All of the PIAA winter teams can begin those official practices Friday.

Apollo-Ridge players will test themselves in a scrimmage at Leechburg at 10 a.m. Saturday. The Vikings will host a scrimmage against Yough on Tuesday before kicking off the season Dec. 2-3 at the Frazier Tip-Off Tournament.

“Back when I first started, we had 24 games and four scrimmages,” Bartha said. “When the first game came around, you were ready to play. Now, it is so compacted. I don’t think we will be ready to play like I hope that first weekend. But our experience is something we have going for us.”

At a glance

Coach: Ray Bartha

Last year’s record: 16-7 (6-4 in Section 4-2A)

Returning starters: Brinley Toland (Sr., PG), Sydney McCray (Sr., G/F), Delaney Fitzroy (Sr., F), Jaden Mull (Jr., G), Sophie Yard (Jr., G), Kylar Toland (Soph., PG).

Top newcomer: Mya McClain (Fr., F)

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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