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Franklin Regional boys golf expects strong follow-up to playoff campaign

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 9:46 p.m.

The Franklin Regional boys golf team accomplished one of its usual goals last season, qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Heading into the 2014 campaign, that goal is now an expectation.

Franklin Regional is looking for a strong follow-up to its 2013 season, when the Panthers made the playoffs after finishing in a three-way tie for second place in the section. This season, the team is aiming for a section title and playoff success.

“We barely made the playoffs last year,” senior Eddie Zhang said. “This year, it's kind of an expectation for us. Last year, it was kind of like, ‘OK, awesome, we made it.' But this year, it's definitely an expectation because our team this year is much stronger. We have a lot of guys coming up from (junior varsity) who have been really working at it this summer, and it shows by the way they've been playing.

“Our goal this year is to make it as far as we can. I'd love for our team to make the WPIAL finals and possibly PIAAs if that's possible. I have very high expectations for the team this year.”

Six of the team's eight players graduated after last season, including four starters. But coach Jeff Traphagen said he was confident in the ability of the younger players on the team to fill those spots, especially after the junior varsity team went undefeated last season.

“We're very lucky (because) it feels like we're reloading instead of rebuilding every year,” Traphagen said. “Art Earl was my new JV coach last year, and he does a great job with them. He spends a lot of time on golf; he loves the game, and being a teacher, he really works well with the kids. I feel like they get a lot out of having him there.”

Zhang and fellow senior Aaron Fallat return as starters. Zhang won the individual title at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association tournament and led the Panthers in scoring last year, while Fallat was No. 3 in scoring.

Traphagen said the experience Fallat and Zhang gained while competing in the playoffs last year should help them this season.

“You always want them to have that experience, to feel like they've been there before and to take that unsure feeling out of their mind,” Traphagen said. “They know now what they need to do. They saw the scores that they need to get. That not knowing isn't there anymore. They know what it's like, and they're going to be good team leaders.”

The two returners will be joined by seniors Joe Dancsecs and Joe Gabster and sophomores Cameon Huffman and Jamie Mauro in the starting lineup to begin the season. Junior Brandon Meszar and freshman Clayton Skoff will also compete for time.

“It's amazing because the same kids who were dominating at tryouts, they were shooting way higher scores last year,” Zhang said. “It shows that everyone's been putting the work in, which is awesome. We're having kids who are taking up golf full-time now. We used to have a lot of two-sport athletes who played golf as a side sport, but now we're having people take golf more seriously. You can see they've been putting in the work.”

Franklin Regional will compete in section 4-AAA with Fox Chapel, Gateway, Kiski Area, Penn Hills and Woodland Hills. The Panthers began their season at the Gary Garrison Invitational on Monday and played nonsection matches against Plum on Tuesday and Pittsburgh Central Catholic on Wednesday, past the deadline for this week's edition. The team will host Kiski Area in its section opener on Thursday.

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

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