Franklin Regional girls LAX looking for a return to glory

| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Eric Barnabei, the new coach of Franklin Regional's girls lacrosse team, is unaccustomed to the futility that has characterized the program in recent years.

He won a pair of championships as a goalie on the 1995 and ‘96 boys squads, and as the girls' head JV coach and assistant varsity coach from 2002-09, he played a key role in shaping the program that nabbed several section titles and eventually went on to win a WPIAL Division I title in 2010.

The Franklin girls qualified for the WPIAL tournament again in 2011, but in the two seasons that followed they won exactly one game. Barnabei, back in the fold and now the head coach, is determined to bring this once-proud program back to the heights it reached not long ago.

“I'm excited,” Barnabei said. “They have a lot of promise. They seem to work really well as a team. They've got great work ethic.”

Barnabei replaces Abbi Novic, who coached Franklin Regional from 2012-13. His two assistant coaches are Audra Adams and Allison Ross.

Adams is also the head JV coach.

The Panthers, whose second game is today against Mount Lebanon, are led by a quartet of seniors in Sabrina Bolick, Brisa Colaizzi, Alexa Milstein and Laura Reizine, each of whom is a team captain. Barnabei called their leadership abilities “absolutely amazing.”

“I think the whole reason we work together so well is because we're all friends outside of lacrosse too, so it makes it a lot easier when we come to practice, just knowing each other really well,” Colaizzi said.

Colaizzi will be one of two attack wings and Bolick one of three homes, while Milstein and Reizine will both play defense.

Franklin Regional will start freshman Maria Cefola at goalie. In front of her, sophomore Mia Meixner will round out the defense, with juniors Annie Painter and Ellen Gray being midfielders. At center, the Panthers will rely on junior Sarah Stephens, though sophomore Shannon Bickmore has impressed there as well.

Junior Alex Hodowanec and sophomore Nicole Mostowy will be Franklin's other two homes and freshman Danielle Hodowanec has a good shot at being the team's other attack wing.

“We've got a pretty good idea of our lineup,” Barnabei said. “I'm not saying it's not going to be fluid. I want the backups to try to get that starting job. That causes the starters to work harder to keep their job.”

In all, the Panthers enter the 2014 season with 30 players, which is about 5-10 fewer than Barnabei would prefer to have spread among two teams.

In addition to conditioning and handling ground balls, catching and throwing, one of Barnabei's top points of emphasis centers on igniting interest in lacrosse and kickstarting player development at lower levels in the community.

That is how Barnabei plans to lead Franklin Regional back to WPIAL glory. He'd love to see it happen this season but knows that rebuilding takes time.

Colaizzi, a starter on the most recent playoff team, is realistic about the possibilities for this year's squad as well.

“The whole team wants to make it to WPIALs this year,” she said. “For me, I definitely want to just get back to a winning season. … Us seniors, we want to get the team's pride up a little bit.

“We want to sort of get everyone's hopes back up.”

Mark Emery is a freelance writer.

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