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Apollo-Ridge girls soccer looks to take next step

September 3, 2018

Build it and they will come, and they will win.

The Apollo-Ridge girls’ soccer team that started out four years ago as a group with a passion for the sport has been transformed.

The Vikings have blossomed from a club team without a home field to a program loaded with talent, beaming with confidence and poised to push the program to new heights.

“The girls have all showed up, and they are all business,” said Apollo-Ridge coach Matt Ross, the architect of the program since its club days four years ago. “I think quietly they all know what level of skill they have this year as opposed to previous years.”

There’s good reason for the Vikings to have a business-like approach to the season. Apollo-Ridge (10-5, 8-4) is coming off of back-to-back WPIAL Class A postseason appearances.

After a preliminary-round loss two years ago and a 4-0 first-round-loss to section rival Shady Side Academy last season, Apollo-Ridge feels more than ready to break through to the quarterfinals, and possibly beyond, this season.

“Everybody that’s here this year is a gamer,” Ross said.

It’s more like everybody that’s left. The Vikings lost eight seniors from last year’s team and, compounding matters, Apollo-Ridge has zero incoming freshmen players. That might seem like doom and gloom, but Ross isn’t worried.

“We have a big freshman class next season, and (we got) seven good players coming in,” Ross said.

Those “seven good players” are students from neighboring Leechburg, as a co-op between the two schools couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only does the influx of Blue Devils bring numbers needed to field a junior varsity squad, it also bolsters talent. In some cases, the Leechburg players have played alongside the Vikings players for years as part of the Kiski Area Soccer League youth program.

“We lost several good players and with the Leechburg girls coming in, they came in here with a positive attitude,” Ross said. “A high percentage of the team has such good skills because they were familiar with each other.”

Apollo-Ridge’s starting 11 will most certainly have a Leechburg look to it as Ross said four girls are in the mix to start. Ross said Leechburg senior Katarina Yurjevich, junior Ashley Grine, freshman Kalli Grine and Lexie Vigna are all pushing for starting spots.

“Yurjevich played with several players at KASL and has a positive attitude,” Ross said “She has extremely good ball skills. She has such a good attitude, and it’s contagious to the team.”

Ross is going to move some pieces around up front this year. In an effort to keep her as healthy as possible, Ross is moving last year’s scoring leader Mayce Anthony from her striker spot back to midfielder.

As for who will fill the two striker spots, Ross said sophomore Emily Bonelli and junior Haley Usko have the inside track with Yurjevich pushing them for playing time.

There are spots to be earned at midfielder, too. In addition to Anthony and Yurjevich, sophomore Adeline Baustert and Grine are making a strong case for starting roles.

There’s friendly competition at defender, where Ross needs to fill two spots. Junior Mallory Galinac, Ashley Grine, Vigna, sophomores Delaney Ashbaugh, Delaney Shaffer and Kenzie Groff are in the mix. Ashbaugh played her way into a starting spot toward the end of last season.

“It’s going to be tough to come up with a starting four,” Ross said.

Junior Madison Galinac returns as the Vikings’ starting goalkeeper.

The Vikings are set to sail into Section 2-2A because of the most recent WPIAL realignment.

After two seasons playing in Class A, Apollo-Ridge chose to play up. Ross is looking forward to the move to get away from some smaller private schools. The travel budget won’t take much of a hit this year either. With new section rivals in Burrell, Deer Lakes, Freeport, Highlands and Valley, the Vikings won’t have to leave the Alle-Kiski in section play except for when they travel to East Allegheny in mid-September.

“The fact that we have not played these teams in the section, we don’t know,” Ross said. “I don’t think we’re going to have any pushovers in this section.”

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