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Franklin Regional boys lacrosse striving for more success

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Doug Gulasy | Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional midfielder Devin Arrigo throws a pass during the Panthers' WPIAL playoff game at Mt. Lebanon on May 16, 2013. The Panthers lost, 15-10.

The Franklin Regional boys lacrosse team traditionally finds itself in postseason contention at the end of each year. This year, however, coach Dave Alexander wants more than that.

“Historically, if you look over the past five to eight years, Franklin's always a .500 team,” Alexander said. “It's a little frustrating because we need to be better than that. That's a goal of mine, to be .750 or even more — but to be over .500.”

After missing the WPIAL Division I playoffs in 2012, Franklin Regional returned to the postseason last season. However, an 8-8 regular-season record put the Panthers in a first-round matchup against Mt. Lebanon, which they lost, 15-10. Mt. Lebanon went on to win the WPIAL title.

“What the killer was last year was all of our close games, (the) one- and two-goal games we lost,” Alexander said. “We probably had anywhere from four to five, possibly even six games, that were lost by one or two goals. That was a complete killer. Some of those were section games, which would have put us in a better seeding in the playoffs.”

Alexander said a team focus would be finding a way to win those games this season. Doing so, he said, would require better possession of the ball this season.

Franklin Regional must replace 11 seniors from last season's team, including defender Luke Stephens, one of the WPIAL's seven All-American players in boys lacrosse last season. All-section attacker Tanner Roberts also graduated, along with three other members of the Panthers' front line.

Despite the loss of Stephens and goaltender Luke Zottola on the back end, Alexander said he thought defense would be a team strength with several returning key players.

“I honestly think our defensive unit is one of, if not the best, in Western Pennsylvania,” he said. “They're strong, they have great stick skills, they pick up ground balls, they're physical, they put other players on their back — they do a lot of just the little right things.”

Senior Devin Arrigo, an all-section pick at midfielder last season, will boost the team's offense.

“He's just bigger, faster, stronger than a majority of the players playing in Western Pennsylvania,” Alexander said. “He's definitely an asset to have back. He brings a lot of experience, leadership and skill, and he's only going to get better than he was last year.”

Two of the team's starting attackers are returnees from last season, Alexander said.

Franklin Regional was scheduled to begin its season with a section game at Fox Chapel on Wednesday night, past the deadline for this week's edition. The Panthers will travel to State College this weekend before hosting Shady Side Academy in another section game next Thursday.

Alexander said his goal is for the Panthers to return to the playoffs again this season, but he ultimately wants the team to win a championship. Franklin Regional won three Western Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association titles in a five-year span during the 1990s, but the Panthers haven't won one since.

“I know we have good players,” said Alexander, who was on the title-winning teams in 1995 and 1996. “As long as they stay on the game plan that the coaches lay out for them, I think it puts us in a good position of being in the playoffs and making a run in the playoffs.”

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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