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Franklin Regional girls soccer team believes experience will pay off

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
(from left) Franklin Regional's Morgan Vensel and Norwin's Melissa Harris race for the ball during a game at Franklin Regional on Monday, September 17, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional's Cassidy LeDonne (8) stops the ball during a game in Latrobe on September 5, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review

The Franklin Regional girls soccer team's return to Section 1-AAA went relatively well in 2012, as the Panthers finished in third place with an 8-4 record and advanced to the WPIAL playoffs for the second straight season.

However, coach Rich Garland saw the season as more of a learning experience than anything else.

“We're a bit more mature this year than we were last year,” Garland said. “We started a lot of freshmen and sophomores last year, and now those freshmen and sophomores are sophomores and juniors this year. That's exciting for us. We're looking to be very competitive this year.”

The Panthers will begin the 2013 regular season with a home game against Gateway at noon Saturday. Garland said the team is looking to “make some noise” in the section.

“Obviously, we want to compete for a section title,” Garland said. “If this is the year to do it, then that would be great. I think we'll make some noise with (the top) teams. Penn-Trafford and Norwin are very good teams. Beating them and (being) competitive with them puts you in a different place.”

To compete for a section championship this season, Franklin Regional must get production from its returning players, as well as fill some key holes.

The biggest change from last season's team comes in goal after the graduation of all-WPIAL keeper Kristen Moore. Sophomore Amanda Thomas will take Moore's place after playing at the junior varsity level last season.

“Amanda's got some big shoes to fill, but technically she's pretty good,” Garland said. “She hasn't seen the game time that we probably want, but she'll get a dose of that in a hurry.”

Thomas will be helped by a strong defensive core that includes senior Cassidy LeDonne, an all-WPIAL selection last season.

LeDonne will be joined on the back line by juniors Beth Kozuch, Hannah Smith and Morgan Vensel, all of whom Garland expects big things from this season.

“We're trying to play a possession style of soccer,” he said. “They play that well. It's just (a matter of) if I can get the speed of play to where it can be successful. That's really the question mark right now: Can we play it fast enough to be successful on a high school field?”

Senior Gionna Fonseca will lead the Panthers' midfielders this season, while junior forward Melanie Renda is expected to pace the team offensively.

Younger players expected to contribute this season include junior Haley Zeliff, sophomores Meredith Easterling and Katie Kimmich and freshman Autumn Velasquez.

All told, Garland said he has a large, confident group of players this season, and the team's experience showed in practice.

“They're a lot more physical this year than they were last year,” he said. “By that, I mean they're willing to stick tackles hard (and) they're competitive in the small-sided games. They want to be on the field. They know we have 35 kids on the team this year, and they know playing time's at a premium. So they're coming prepared, and they're coming to play and play hard.”

After Saturday's game against Gateway, Franklin Regional will open section play with a home contest against Latrobe at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The Panthers' success in 2012 has Garland eyeing the top of the section, which is generally controlled by local rivals Norwin and Penn-Trafford.

“We were competitive with the top teams last year,” Garland said. “We dropped a heartbreaker to Latrobe that we shouldn't have dropped — we were all over them, (but) they were able to sneak one past us. But Norwin and Penn-Trafford are obviously the teams you're targeting. We were competitive with them last year. We were certainly in the games. This year, I look for that to continue and maybe even have more success against those top teams.”

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

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