Franklin Regional is a reigning WPIAL girls soccer section champion. Even with a new section home, the young Panthers are out for another title.
Moved from Section 3-AAA to Section 1-AAA, the Panthers have only eight juniors and seniors on a 33-girl roster.
“We're probably one of the younger teams in the section,” coach Rich Garland said. “But I'm real pleased with the level of talent. We're trying to implement a style of play and get it ingrained, but they're coming along well.”
The Panthers (3-1, 2-0) scored a total of 19 goals in their first four games.
Defensive midfielder Katie Gvozden, striker Courtney Hanchey, goalkeeper Kristen Moore and outside backer Karli Popko serve as senior captains.
“There's not that many seniors on the team, and we all start and we all play the majority of each game, so we just try to make everyone work hard for each other and work together,” Moore said. “We definitely try to set a good example.”
Moore was named all-Section 3-AAA last season, Hanchey is arguably the Panthers' top offensive threat, Garland calls Gvozden “one of the fastest players I have ever coached,” and Popko was moved to fullback to shore up the defense.
The anchor of the Panthers' back line is junior Cassidy LeDonne.
“She's a real force on the field,” Garland said. “She's fast and skilled and provides a lot of leadership. If we need a goal, she might be switched up to midfield because she can be a very dominant player there as well.”
Sophomore Jackie Cepicka, junior Gionna Fonseca and freshman Bria McMahon also are part of the midfield unit. The attacking Cepicka scored two goals in Franklin Regional's 7-2 victory at Plum last week.
“She's a real strong player in the midfield,” Garland said. “She controls a lot of the play, plays a lot on the attack and contributes in her own zone. She's fun to watch.”
Among the sophomore class, Melanie Renda joins Hanchey as one of the Panthers' top scorers. Morgan Vensel and Hannah Smith played extensively on the back line as freshmen last season and are poised to take the next step, Garland said.
“There are a lot of underclassmen contributing, which is definitely different from past years because there's usually been more upperclassmen,” Moore said. “But most of them are bringing more talent. We need a lot of kids that can play a bunch of different positions, and our sophomores and freshmen are providing that.”
Franklin Regional edged Fox Chapel and Gateway for the Section 3-AAA title by going 10-2 last season, but the Panthers went 2-5 in nonsection games. Included among those defeats were losses to Section 1-AAA co-champions Norwin and Penn-Trafford.
This season, the Knights and Warriors are section rivals.
“They're the standard, two teams that put the rest of the league on notice,” Garland said. “You want to be able to compete against teams like that.”
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