Apollo-Ridge girls soccer keeps building
Three years ago, a group of girls set out on a journey to establish a soccer program at Apollo-Ridge.
The foundation was set for future teams and seasons. Strides were made with program-building victories.
In 2015, the Vikings officially joined the WPIAL, and they finished fifth in Section 4-A, one spot away from a playoff berth.
Last year, the team broke through. It earned a trip to the playoffs in Section 1-A, finishing 5-5-2 and in a fourth-place tie with Serra Catholic.
A preliminary-round 2-1 loss to Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic ended Apollo-Ridge's season at 7-7-2, but it lit a fire under the returning players in the offseason to get back to the playoffs and take that next step.
“We've had both great moments and challenging moments over the past three seasons,” said senior defender Elizabeth Ross, who recovered from ACL surgery after her sophomore season to play every game last year.
“We've made strides each year. It's been a really good run. We have high expectations this season. We want to win a playoff game and see how far we can go.”
Ross is one of eight seniors on this year's roster. Five of the eight — Ross, defender Breanna Murray, midfielders Amanda Eckman and Ashley Aller and forward Jessica Ruzbacki — have played on the team in every year of its existence.
That quintet is joined by fellow seniors Miranda Zawodniak (midfield), Marissa Veneziani (midfield) and Megan Doyka (defense/midfield).
The Vikings are an experienced group with eight returning starters and 15 lettermen overall.
Seven freshman with experience in travel and Cup soccer join the returning players.
“We're going to have a lot of options on a deep bench,” coach Matt Ross said. “We hadn't had that before. We were pretty beat up at the end of last year because we had a short bench. We have girls who can play a number of positions. That gives us a lot of versatility. This is a great core of players, from seniors to freshmen.”
Last year's leader in goals, Ashtyn Baustert, graduates. Ross is looking for a pair of sophomores — Mayce Anthony and Haley Usko — to pick up the slack this year.
Anthony led the team in assists last year despite missing a good chunk because of ankle issues.
“We're trying to break them free of just running straight down the field so they don't get so beat up,” coach Ross said. “We want them to make diagonal runs and use their skill level rather than just brute force. We expect them to have great seasons.”
Coach Ross said he expects additional scoring to come from freshman Emily Bonelli, the sister of former Vikings goalkeeper standout Megan Bonelli, and junior Noelle Murphy.
Anthony and Usko were part of a freshman group last year unofficially dubbed “The Fab Four” with twins Mallory and Maddy Galinac.
Maddy Galinac took over goalkeeper duties from Megan Bonelli last year, and she returns to that spot this fall.
Mallory Galinac, coach Ross said, will help form what should be a stout defensive corps with Ross, Murray and junior returnee Alaina Marsinetti.
Coach Ross said freshmen D.J. Ashbaugh (defender) and Adeline Baustert (midfield/forward) are in the mix for playing time.
“We look for (the freshman) to contribute right away,” coach Ross said. “They've worked out with the team often over the years. The upperclassmen are used to having them around.”
Said Murray: “Each year, the freshmen have come in and provided a great foundation. They really know how to play soccer.”
Coach Ross hopes his team can increase its standing in a competitive Section 1-A. Greensburg Central Catholic (12-0) and Shady Side Academy (10-2) finished 1-2 in the section and met in the Class A finals — a 1-0 win by Shady Side.
The teams then met in the PIAA semifinals, and Shady Side won again 1-0.
“We want to keep progressing,” coach Ross said. “We want to challenge those top teams in the section. The schedule is grueling. It's that way for all the teams. But the girls are hungry to take that next step.”
Apollo-Ridge kicks off its season with home section games against Jeannette (Sept. 6), Riverview (Sept. 9) and St. Joseph (Sept. 11) before a game at Serra Catholic on Sept. 13.
The Vikings are hoping to break through against Riverview. The teams have played four close section games the past two seasons, including a couple of overtime affairs, but Apollo-Ridge is 0-3-1 against the Raiders.