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Franklin Regional boys soccer expects to be in section mix again

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Franklin Regional goalkeeper Chris Ralph makes a save during the first half of a WPIAL AAA quarterfinal against Canon-McMillan Thursday October 25, 2012 at North Allegheny. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

The Franklin Regional boys soccer team spent plenty of time in the offseason on the future of the program, as coach Ryan Montgomery said youth clinics would pay off “for years to come.”

The present doesn't look half-bad, either.

Franklin Regional will open its 2013 season with a nonsection home game against Gateway at 2 p.m. Saturday. Coming off a season that saw the Panthers finish in second place in Section 1-AAA and advance to the WPIAL quarterfinals, the team is looking for more of the same this year.

“We want to set our standards high,” Montgomery said. “We want to make sure we're competing for a section title every year and playoffs is a consistent thing, (that) we're not just making the playoffs every other year or in spurts. We're trying to make sure coming into the season that we are as prepared as we can be, playing good soccer through camp, (and) in the offseason doing as much as we can to keep the kids involved and getting the training level up.

“It's more of a year-round feel so that when we move into the season, we're as prepared as we can be.”

As Montgomery enters his second season as Franklin Regional coach, he'll have some work to do to replace a departed senior class that included midfielder Brent Velasquez and defenders Nick Bolkovac and Austin Jaliela.

“Those two backs, in particular, are going to be very difficult to replace,” he said.

The Panthers will benefit from the return of junior keeper Chris Ralph, who led them to a 9-2-1 record in section play last season and a 3-2, double-overtime victory over Ringgold in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs. Canon-McMillan beat Franklin Regional, 1-0, in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

“He had a fantastic season last year as a sophomore, and we're hoping he can be our all-WPIAL keeper this year,” Montgomery said of Ralph.

In front of Ralph, Franklin Regional will look to senior defender Jon Cavalier to anchor the back line in the absence of Bolkovac and Jaliela.

Junior midfielders Jake Roberge and Ryan Watson are expected to lead Franklin Regional's offensive attack, while Montgomery expects a strong group of sophomore and junior forwards to break through this season after gaining a lot of experience in 2012.

“A lot of the leadership's actually coming out of our junior class,” Montgomery said. “The senior class is pretty small for a typical class, so it's a lot of the juniors (who are) stepping up. But Jon Cavalier has been one particular senior that is showing that kind of leadership and is really being a rock for us, especially in the back, where we need a lot of depth right now.”

After Saturday's game against Gateway, the Panthers will open section play at home at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against Latrobe.

Franklin Regional moved to Section 1-AAA before last season and finished behind just Kiski. The Panthers expect to compete for a section championship again this season.

While part of the offseason was focused on the future, Montgomery made sure to get his current players into indoor soccer programs in order to keep them playing together before this season. He believes that will benefit the Panthers in the long run.

“It's going to pay off,” Montgomery said. “It has paid off (already) as we watch the group that goes out from last year (who) need to be replaced. The sophomore class, the junior class, the guys who were in reserve last year, are stepping up nicely and fitting into pivotal roles.”

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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