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Franklin Regional ultimate teams complete successful years

| Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
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The Franklin Regional boys and girls ultimate teams pose after the state championships May 26, 2013, in Allentown. The girls team finished fifth in the state, while the boys placed 10th.

It took the Franklin Regional girls Ultimate team just one game this spring to surpass its victory total from the entire 2012 season, and the winning didn't stop there.

After a winless inaugural campaign, the girls Ultimate team finished 7-3 this spring and concluded the season in late May with a fifth-place finish at the state tournament in Allentown.

“I think after the first game, everybody was in shock about what just happened,” captain Victoria Zhang said. “It really motivated us to keep practicing (and) keep trying our best.”

In Ultimate — also known as Ultimate Frisbee — teams try to score points by passing a disc down the field until they reach the opposing team's end zone. If a pass is incomplete, intercepted or caught out of bounds, the other team takes possession.

Franklin Regional first fielded a boys Ultimate team seven or eight years ago, and Zhang began the girls team last year. The teams compete in the Pittsburgh High School Ultimate League.

Zhang said the girls team went through a difficult first season because many of the players were inexperienced, and the team didn't have a coach.

“There was some incredible talent there, but at the same time, we didn't have any strategies,” said Zhang, who will be a senior next season. “I was using the Internet to figure out how to coach people.”

Franklin Regional graduate Brady Zbikowski came on board to coach the boys and girls teams this season. Zhang said having a coach helped, as did the greater amount of experience from last season.

After the team's season-opening win against Allderdice, Franklin Regional kept up the success and went into the state tournament seeded sixth. The team broke seed, finishing in fifth place in the state.

Zhang hopes to see more people join the girls Ultimate team next season. The team's roster included 13 players in 2013, which she said was small by Ultimate standards.

“I'm really glad we actually got to field a team this year because of our bad record (last season),” she said. “But next year I'm really hopeful we'll get more freshmen because I'll be graduating soon and I want the program to continue.”

The Franklin Regional boys team, meanwhile, also broke its seeding at the state tournament after finishing in 10th place.

It marked a successful ending to a difficult season for the boys team, which finished with a 3-6-1 record in the regular season.

The team suffered some setbacks early on, as its two captains went down with significant injuries. Dan Mrachko broke his ankle in the third game of the season, against Mt. Lebanon, and Luke Brennan suffered a foot injury in the sixth game.

“When both of your captains — the best two players on the team (and) the two people who lead the team — get hurt and can't play, it hurts,” said Mrachko, who was a senior. “Luke was able to play some after he hurt his foot — his was not as bad as mine — but I was in a boot. I wasn't allowed to play, (and) I wouldn't have been able to play if I tried.”

Mrachko did return in time for the state tournament, but he said he was limited.

Despite the injuries, the team did well enough in its pool to advance to the state tournament. Franklin Regional was seeded 13th, but the team's 3-4 record over the two days of competition enabled it to finish 10th in the state.

Among the victories at the state tournament was a triumph over Mt. Lebanon, one of the team's biggest rivals.

“That was pretty epic,” Mrachko said.

While the Franklin Regional boys Ultimate team has been around for several years now, Mrachko said the sport is growing in Western Pennsylvania. He said Pittsburgh recently incorporated a middle school league.

“Ultimate is an awesome sport, but really the biggest thing to get out of it is the competitiveness against other teams and rival schools and the teamwork,” he said. You have to come together as a team to win (in) Ultimate.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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