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Apollo-Ridge's Callipare happy to be back on bench

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
Apollo-Ridge's Ashley Emminger shoots under pressure from Allyson Cujas during a 61-33 loss at Ford City on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013.

After a year on the sidelines, Apollo-Ridge basketball coach Jim Callipare is refreshed and raring to go.

Following a successful stint with the Elderton girls program, Callipare was without a position after that school was closed by the Armstrong School District board on June 30, 2012.

“I took a break. I did miss it,” Callipare said of his coaching. “I'm anxious to get involved again. I'm excited to get back into coaching. I think this is a good fit for me.”

Callipare will take over an Apollo-Ridge team that went 3-7 in Section 1-AA play last season — 11-10 overall — under coach Desiree Syster, who resigned after the season.

The Vikings haven't made the WPIAL playoffs since 2010 and finished one game out of the playoff running last season.

“I'd like to get Apollo-Ridge back in the mix,” Callipare said. “I'm trying to instill teaching a discipline.”

With a daughter on the section-rival Ford City team, Callipare had a chance to watch Apollo-Ridge several times.

Even though top player Sarah Bonelli has graduated, Callipare feels the Vikings will have a strong nucleus, starting with senior forward Ashley Emminger.

“She's the heart and soul of our team,” Callipare said. “We love everything about her game.”

Apollo-Ridge is also set at point guard with returning starter Julia Demeno, a junior.

Looking at larger roles for the Vikings this season will be senior shooting guard Racheal Moore and junior Claire Broman. Junior Briauna Fairman will help out in the front court.

Apollo-Ridge was stymied by injuries last season, allowing sophomore Megan Bonelli and senior Dana Speranza to receive varsity playing time.

One positive ingredient for the program will be the return of a junior varsity team.

When injuries began to mount, the school had to forgo the JV squad.

“This will help build our program,” Callipare said. “We have 14 girls and quality players that'll let us go 10 to 12 deep.”

Apollo-Ridge got off to a 7-2 start last season, thanks to having seven of its first 10 games on its home floor.

Things will be different this year; the Vikings will play their first eight games on the road, among them the season opener Dec. 6 at the Dynamos Tip-off Tournament, where the Apollo-Ridge will play host Springdale.

Callipare has brought along his staff from Elderton, including Steve Kijowski, Alex Maruca and former Ford City standout Tara Powers.

The Vikings are in Section 1-AA, which is comprised of six schools.

“I think Burrell's one of the best teams in the state,” Callipare said. “Deer Lakes and Ford City also have big traditions and are well-coached.”

Apollo-Ridge is one of the teams in the Apollo Trust Tournament over Christmas break and will play Wilkinsburg in the opening round.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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