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Franklin Regional boys lacrosse team makes run toward playoffs

Aaron Loughner | For The Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional senior Tanner Roberts eludes a Pine-Richland defender during a game at Franklin Regional High School on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. The Panthers won, 10-8.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Because his team competes in a lacrosse section that includes large schools like North Allegheny and Pine-Richland, Dave Alexander believes in the importance of conditioning.

So when he took over as the Franklin Regional boys coach before this season, he decided the Panthers' running program needed an upgrade.

“We ran the heck out of them in practice,” said Alexander, the former junior varsity coach. “I don't have a sideline of 40 players. I've got low 20s, and we knew we had to run if we wanted to compete with these teams.”

So far, the approach seems to be working. The Panthers (7-6, 4-2) entered Wednesday night's game at Seneca Valley (4-9, 1-4) tied for third place in WPIAL's Division I, Section 2. The top four teams qualify for the postseason.

“Last year, I didn't play a lot, but from my personal experience I wasn't as in shape as I was this year,” junior Devin Arrigo said. “I can see it with our other players as well. They're running, (and) no one's really tired. It's helped a lot.”

Arrigo said the program consistently contained about 2 miles of running, which included plenty of sprints.

Before this season, the team had a running program but could never complete it, senior Luke Zottola said. In preparation for Alexander's program, some of the players got together before practices even began to run on their own.

“(Coach) challenged us to come in prepared,” Zottola said. “I know myself and a couple other kids came in and did 2-mile runs. Then, as we got closer, we did sprints. We were able to get into the full running program a week in, which was impressive.”

While Alexander originally put the program in place to compete with the bigger schools in the section, it's come in especially handy this year in a tight playoff race.

The top five teams in Section 2 entered this week within two games of each other. North Allegheny (8-6, 5-1) and Shady Side Academy (8-4, 5-1) already clinched playoff spots, leaving the Panthers to battle Hampton (8-4, 4-2) and Pine-Richland (7-5, 3-3) for the final two postseason berths.

“This is what makes lacrosse so fun,” Alexander said. “If you have a team or two that just dominate — 13-1 or 13-0 — (it's not fun). The five teams in our section look the same (on paper), and we play the same on the field.

“That's what makes being in the north conference so great — the competition. Who wants to win 20-1? Nobody wants to win like that or play like that. These games make it exciting.”

Franklin Regional picked up a key victory last Wednesday, defeating Pine-Richland, 10-8, on Senior Night.

Alexander said he told the players to get up early and keep separation against Pine-Richland, and the players heeded that command.

The Panthers took an early 3-0 lead and held Pine-Richland at arm's length the remainder of the game, answering with a score each time Pine-Richland cut its deficit to two goals.

“I think it's one of the most important aspects of the game — just the mentality to come back and work to get the lead again,” said Arrigo, who scored four goals in the contest.

The Panthers went into Wednesday's game against Seneca Valley with a chance to claim a playoff berth. The contest ended past the deadline for this week's edition.

But after back-to-back first-round exits from the postseason, the players hope to go further this year.

Three seasons ago, Franklin Regional finished second in the WPIAL and advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals. Current players hope to match or exceed that accomplishment.

“I was not on that team, sadly, but I went to most of their games and the atmosphere was just amazing,” Zottola said. “It was awesome.”

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

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