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Boys lacrosse gets first win in home opener

Matt Grubba | Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional senior defender Luke Stephens, shown in a game last season at Sewickley Academy, is one of the Panthers' senior captains and top returning players for the 2013 season.

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Don't let a couple early losses fool you. Franklin Regional's boys lacrosse team is poised to be in the playoff mix again.

The Panthers suffered a pair of setbacks in eastern Pennsylvania to kick off their 2013 season, but Franklin Regional found its rhythm in a 7-3 nonsection win in its home opener Monday against perennial WPIAL power Sewickley Academy.

The win gets FR (1-2) off on the right foot ahead of its Division I, Section 2 opener at Shady Side Academy (2-0) on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., and it gets the first win for the Panthers' new head coach, Dave Alexander, an alumnus of FR's championship teams in the mid-1990s.

“I got a lot of positive feedback from players and parents when I found out I would be coaching the varsity team,” Alexander said. “Being a Franklin Regional grad, it's pretty special to coach the team you played for.”

Alexander previously was the junior varsity coach before former varsity coach Chris Stiles resigned in the offseason, which gives him plenty of familiarity with most of the players on his roster now.

“With the exception of a few players like Tanner Roberts and Luke Stephens, who completely skipped JV and just went to varsity, I have experience with the majority of our players, and that has helped,” Alexander said.

Roberts, an attacker/midfielder, and Stephens, a defender, are two of the team's senior captains and the on-field leaders for an FR team that is targeting a repeat berth in the playoffs and moving beyond the quarterfinal round, where last season ended.

“Luke is the anchor of our defense and a very good player,” Alexander said. “I was an attacker in high school, so I can tell you, Luke is the type of defender you don't want to go against. He can strip you when you're not expecting it, and he's great working with the other defenders.

“Tanner is a very skilled player, too, and I try to keep him on the field as much as possible. I wouldn't be surprised if he's up for high awards at the end of the season.”

Along with his senior leaders, Alexander has a junior captain, Devin Arrigo, who he expects big things from in the midfield after missing much of last season with a broken hand. On the back end, senior goalie Luke Zottola returns after a strong junior season in the crease for FR, which has experience leading the way at every position on the field.

FR also has some new players that could make an impact this season, including sophomore long-stick midfielder Joe Pasquino, who Alexander said has been excellent at reading the game and getting in passing lanes defensively.

“We've got some good number this year, with close to 60 kids between JV and varsity,” Alexander said. “Joe is one of our young guys who is going to be seeing some time with varsity, and there are others making a name for themselves.”

Though the Panthers did drop their first two contests — an 8-7 loss at Easton (2-0) and a 9-6 loss at Nazareth (3-0) on March 22 and 23 — those losses gave Alexander an idea of where his team stands and gave them a week to improve during spring break before the win against Sewickley Academy (0-3).

“We didn't have the luxury of any scrimmages before the season, and honestly, I think we were a better team than the schools we played out east,” Alexander said.

“We've enjoyed this past week and having eight days between games. We had an excellent week of practice, and we really focused on transitioning from offense to defense. I believe now that we're on the same page, and I'm looking forward to seeing how we perform in the games coming up.”

With three section games in the next six days — the Panthers host Fox Chapel and travel to North Allegheny next week after the Shady Side Academy game — Franklin Regional is going to have plenty of chances soon to show what it has worked on during the break.

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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