RIDGWAY — It seems that no matter the sport, Ridgway has developed into a “measuring stick” program around District 9, and it figures to be the same this year for the Elker basketball program.
Fresh off a football district championship, Ridgway hasn’t had their full roster for much of the preseason, but there is still plenty to be excited about for the Elkers again this season.
Ridgway went 22-6 last year and pulled off an unbelievable run into the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals where the Elkers fell to Constitution, which lost in the state championship to Sewickley Academy.
The Elkers also got to the PIAA Tournament in a thrilling 65-62 win in overtime over Clarion-Limestone in the D-9 third place game.
And now the Elkers have a few starters back from that team last year as they get into basketball shape in the preseason.
“We have had only had two practices with everyone present,” said Ridgway head coach Tony Allegretto. “With that in mind, we have progressed well for the circumstances. The non-football players have worked hard while short-handed at practice and the football players attended many workouts to work on shooting and ball-handling.
“Since (the football team’s) loss last Friday, they have hit the ground running. It is a testament to the type of student-athletes we have at Ridgway when every football-playing basketballer was in attendance and practicing on Saturday morning.”
Ridgway had two players on the Tri-County Sunday/Courier Express First Team a year ago in Justin Kasmierski and Neil MacDonald. While Kasmierski graduated, MacDonald is back for his senior season after once again being a standout in football.
MacDonald had 319 points last year, which was good for 11 points per game. Allegretto will look to MacDonald as being one of the team’s key leaders along with the team’s five other seniors.
“Neil will be a leader in the weight room, on the court, and in the locker room as he was last season,” said Allegretto. “Neil never takes a play or even a practice off. Our team will follow his lead and hopefully we can achieve beyond our expectations.”
Out of the 16 players on the Elker roster, 12 are either juniors or seniors. Many of them played key minutes last year.
Seniors Andy Breier, Aaron Hinton, Johnny Mitchell, Josh Thorwart and Chris Wickett return, while juniors Daunte Allegretto, Jake Reynolds, Parker Rohr, Johvan Rosario, Cole Salberg and Will Thompson are back.
“We are an experienced team,” said Allegretto. “We have three seniors who have been a big part of the varsity team since ninth grade. We have another three seniors whom we expect to play valuable minutes, as well.”
Breier was an honorable mention pick for the TCS/CE all-stars last season.
Allegretto also said that some of the sophomores could also see valuable minutes on the court this season.
With such little time to prepare so far, Allegretto said that only MacDonald and Breier are two starters that have been penciled in for the first game.
With so much returning from last year’s team, it’s hard not to see Ridgway making another strong run at the PIAA Tournament. However, Allegretto is focused on getting the team better every day.
“If our team progresses throughout the season, and we all do our job and take care of our responsibilities, we will see success,” he said. “If that success translates into a run in the PIAAs, great. If not, we know we gave it our best and we will have no regrets.
“Obviously, in the end we know we have to beat the best teams to play for and win championships. We look forward to that challenge and hopefully we can remain healthy throughout the season to give our best shot.”
With the playoffs still a long ways away in the distance, Allegretto said the team’s goals are to have fun in a long, grueling season and to improve in the process.
“Basketball is a long season, and we run a demanding program,” said Allegretto. “Hopefully, the players come out of the other side as better people, we coaches affect them positively, and they look at their time in the Elker basketball program as a rewarding experience. If we can achieve these things, wins and championships are icing on the cake.”
Ridgway opens the season on Dec. 12 as it travels to Port Allegany.
Seniors: Andy Breier, Aaron Hinton, Neil MacDonald, Johnny Mitchell, Josh Thorwart, Chris Wickett. Juniors: Daunte Allegretto, Jake Reynolds, Parker Rohr, Johvan Rosario, Cole Salberg, Will Thompson. Sophomores: Matt Dush, Greg Simon, Drew Young, Zack Zameroski.