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Franklin Regional lacrosse team off to a winning start

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A year has made a big difference for Franklin Regional's girls lacrosse team.

Winless a year ago, the Panthers are off to a winning start this season after topping Hampton in a nonsection contest, 11-10, on the road last Thursday.

Head coach Abbi Novic, now in her second year in charge of the Panthers, said the difference in the team's play this season has been obvious to watch.

“We're really playing like a team, offense to defense and through the midfield,” Novic said. “People are coming back on defense, and everybody's doing their part. We've been using the words team and teammwork a lot.”

Leading the Panthers are three senior captains who helped the team work through the disappointing 2012 season — attacker Mikaela Bortot, midfielder Hannah Bertolo and defender Shelby Mohler. As a group, those three and the rest of the FR seniors are determined to make this year a better one than last.

“It's nice having someone at each position who can lead the girls in these first couple games,” Novic said. “We've had a conversation on what we expect for the season. We have a number of outstanding players, and everyone's playing hard. With those three captains leading, I think we'll be very strong this year.”

One of the strengths in the early season for the Panthers has been controlling the ball off the draw to start play. Sophomore midfielder Sarah Stephens has been excellent in the center role, and junior Brisa Colaizzi, who also was a strong goal scorer for FR last year, can also move into the circle on draws.

“Sarah has definitely stepped up after playing for us as a freshman,” Novic said. “She has a great ability to control the ball at that center draw, and it catches teams off guard that she can get the ball into her stick so calmly.”

Speedy senior defensive winger Karli Popko and sophomore defender Annie Painter will be two more of FR's stalwarts in its own half of the field, as they will protect the goal in front of new goalie Lindsey D'Acsenzo, who has been a find for Novic and her staff.

“She's been like finding a diamond in coal,” Novic said. “She used to be a soccer goalie but got hurt. She has friends that have been on the team who convinced her to come out this year. She has very natural hand-eye coordination, and it's her first time with a lacrosse stick, but she's doing outstanding.”

With the combination of strong returning and new players, it's easy to see why there is an air of optimism around the team. FR does have to contend with its usual challenging schedule, however, and it still will be a challenge to grab a top-four finish in Section 2 of Division I.

“There are always a lot of good teams in our section. The girls at Pine-Richland look like they're bred for lacrosse,” Novic said. “All those teams are tough, but we consider every team we face tough because we have something to prove.

“We're trying to bring back that tradition. The seniors want people to look up to them and see that when they step on the field, they mean business. Last year was a bit of a transition year, but this year, the girls are ready to come out with fire.”

The Panthers are scheduled to host two key early section games this week against Quaker Valley on Thursday and Fox Chapel on Friday. Both games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. starts.

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

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