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After losing mother to cancer, Apollo-Ridge star Emminger returns to court

| Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, 12:41 a.m.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Apollo-Ridge's Ashley Emminger (right) and Freeport's Macy Smolic (left) and Carly VanTine fight for the ball during their game Monday, Dec. 9, 2013.

Ashley Emminger is back to helping Apollo-Ridge win, but she does so while coping with the most tragic of losses.

Emminger, a senior forward and St. Vincent recruit, is continuing to play her final season with the Vikings after the death last month of her mother, Kriss, from a six-year battle with cancer.

The Vikings' leading scorer before her mother's passing, Emminger is a critical piece for an Apollo-Ridge team that has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time in four years. But basketball is the smallest concern now, as coaches and teammates try to lend support to one of their senior leaders.

“She was very important to me. She was always a role model,” Emminger said.

“I get down on myself when I do something bad, and I haven't been playing up to par lately. But I feel she'd be happy knowing I'm still out there playing.”

Emminger missed two games and some practices in the weeks after her mother's death, but she has been trying to fit back into her old role with the team.

That transition hasn't been easy, said Apollo-Ridge coach Jim Callipare, who is balancing preparation for the postseason with doing what is best for a player in a time of need.

“We're trying to keep things normal as much as we can,” Callipare said. “She's struggling right now, and we have to take things day to day, but if we can be there to help her, that's the most important thing.”

Emminger is grateful for the allowances the coaching staff has made for her, and she said the support of her teammates has been important.

“They've been extra nice to support me and give me a little leeway when I get a little crazy in practice,” Emminger said. “It helps a lot knowing I have my team behind me. At first, it was hard enjoying anything after losing my mother. It's been getting better, and I am doing the thing I love (playing basketball).”

Emminger will have basketball beyond high school after deciding she would join the team at St. Vincent next season. She chose the Bearcats over her other top choice, Virginia Wesleyan, in large part because of it being closer to her home and her family.

“My mom was sick, and I figured being close to home, there would be more of a support system in place,” Emminger said. “I wanted to go to Virginia, but there were lots of things about the school — the landscape, the team — that convinced me St. Vincent was the right place.”

On the court, Emminger hopes to regain her best form before the end of the season. She has just one double-digit scoring game in six contests since returning to the team, but her coach knows they need her presence on the floor and is optimistic things will come around for the WPIAL playoffs, which begin next week.

“Our girls understand Ashley's not playing like she can but that there's a reason for that. I don't think anybody can imagine what she's been going through,” Callipare said. “We're just learning on the fly how to deal with it, and we're hoping it will all work out by the end of the season.”

Emminger, meanwhile, is looking forward to the playoffs. She hopes she can help add a happy ending to the season with a good performance in the first playoff appearance for her or any of her teammates.

“It's a real big deal for us to make playoffs. We still aren't at our potential, but I feel like we're working as a team, making our passes and communicating better,” she said.

“It's a whole different atmosphere this year with the new coaches. Coach (Callipare) yells the whole time, but he's very encouraging. You can tell they care about making us better.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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