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Franklin Regional girls soccer breaks playoff win drought in resilient season

| Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, 10:30 p.m.
Franklin Regional players celebrate with Bella Larese (31) after she scored against Mt. Pleasant on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 in WPIAL girls' soccer playoffs at Norwin High School.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional players celebrate with Bella Larese (31) after she scored against Mt. Pleasant on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 in WPIAL girls' soccer playoffs at Norwin High School.
Franklin Regional's Anna Philips competes against Mt. Pleasant's Ally Bloom for the ball Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 in WPIAL girls' soccer playoffs at Norwin High School.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional's Anna Philips competes against Mt. Pleasant's Ally Bloom for the ball Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 in WPIAL girls' soccer playoffs at Norwin High School.

It took less than one match for injuries to plague the Franklin Regional girls soccer team this season.

Just minutes into the first game, junior goalkeeper Tiffany Jolayemi broke her hand and had to be replaced by freshman Sydney Caldwell. That injury was a sign of things to come for the Panthers, who also lost two key seniors for an extended time and played without their star midfielder for a stretch in the final contest of the year.

Despite all of that, the Panthers accomplished something that had not been done in almost a decade: win a playoff game.

Coach Rich Garland, in his 18th season guiding Franklin Regional, said his team overachieved this year, given the adversity. The playoff triumph against Mt. Pleasant, 4-1, meant a lot to the program, he said. The last time the Panthers won a postseason match was 2009.

“It was certainly important to us,” Garland said. “We hadn't had a lot of success going into those matches.”

The Panthers were confident heading into this playoff showdown, in part because they already defeated the Vikings in a nonsection match near the midway point of the season.

It was about that time Franklin Regional really started to find its groove, even though the Panthers enjoyed a five-game winning streak early in the season.

“We were winning, but we weren't winning with the type of play we like: an up tempo, possession game. We weren't dominating teams as I wanted to,” Garland said about the early-season performance. “Through the middle of the season, you could see that switch and change.”

Then the injuries began to take their toll. Caldwell continued to play admirably in net, but the absences of midfielder Lydia Jaskey, who suffered an ACL injury, and forward Rasa Vaicenas left the Panthers short on depth.

As a result, Franklin Regional sputtered into the postseason, going 1-3-1 in its final five regular-season matches.

After the first-round win against Mt. Pleasant, the Panthers faced No. 2 seed Mars. To make the task even more challenging, Franklin Regional lost its top player, Sophia Hudson, to an ankle injury during the match.

When the final whistle blew, the Panthers were on the wrong end of a 4-1 decision, ending their season. Still, Garland saw plenty of positives to take from the postseason experience.

“We were pretty young in that playoff game, so I was pleased they were able to put together the game they did,” he said. “We weren't successful with that (match against Mars), but we proved to ourselves we can win in the playoffs.”

In addition to Hudson, an all-WPIAL performer who will continue her soccer career at Lafayette, Calla Soloman and Abby Albright were other seniors who elevated their play during the season.

Collectively, the senior class won't soon be forgotten, Garland said.

“They've contributed mightily to the program and the legacy of Franklin Regional soccer, so they're going to be missed. But they leave us in good stead. They taught a lot of things to the younger girls.”

Garland is hoping to have a larger collection of players on his roster next year, something that could help ease the impact of injuries.

With two talented goalkeepers expected to return, as well as other key players like sophomore midfielder Victoria Rothrauff, the Panthers should compete at a high level in 2018.

Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.

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