Franklin Regional girls soccer misses postseason, but finishes strong

Franklin Regional junior Beth Kozuch handles the ball during a game against Gateway on Aug. 31, 2013, at Franklin Regional High School.
Franklin Regional junior Beth Kozuch handles the ball during a game against Gateway on Aug. 31, 2013, at Franklin Regional High School.
Photo by Doug Gulasy | Murrysville Star
Doug Gulasy
| Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

With their backs against the wall after a three-game losing streak near midseason, members of the Franklin Regional girls soccer team needed to close the season strong in order to give the team a chance at the postseason.

While the players did just that, the Panthers ultimately fell short of their preseason goal of qualifying for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.

Nonetheless, coach Rich Garland was pleased with the way the team finished the year: on a 5-1-1 run that left it just a half-game out of a playoff spot.

“We found a way to deny opponents scoring opportunities, and we played more consistently towards the end of the season,” Garland said. “That was fun to watch.”

Franklin Regional (8-8-2) allowed just five goals in its final seven games of the season, with three of those coming in one game: a 3-1 loss to section champion Penn-Trafford. The Panthers shut out four opponents, including Norwin. The resulting 0-0 tie in that game ultimately kept the Knights from sharing the section championship with Penn-Trafford.

Garland said before this season he hoped to compete better with Penn-Trafford and Norwin, traditionally the top two teams in Section 1-AAA. While the tie with Norwin pleased him, he said the players weren't totally satisfied with it.

“It was kind of a two-handed reaction,” he said. “When they walked off the field, they weren't happy. But what we took away from that match is we can play. Despite having some weaknesses in some positions, we can play, and we can play hard.

“The fact that we had an impact on the section spoke well of our girls. They could have just pulled up and just mailed it in, but they didn't. They came to compete. … It was a great contest, so we developed some confidence about it. But we weren't happy with the result, (which) shows the maturity level of the girls who are ready to compete at the highest level.”

Injuries hampered Franklin Regional for much of the season, with the most significant one sidelining sophomore goalkeeper Amanda Thomas in the preseason.

Junior Dana Altman, previously a midfielder, stepped in for Thomas for much of the season before suffering a concussion. She was replaced by Danielle Brand, who played a few games before Thomas returned in time for the final four contests.

“At key times, those kids stepped into that role,” Garland said. “Obviously, they were nervous about it, but they stepped up and really served their teammates well.”

Although this season ended without a playoff appearance, Garland said the team could gain confidence from its strong end to the season, particularly because the team has a strong core of underclassmen returning.

“Next year looks promising,” he said. “A lot of the kids that played a lot of minutes this year, you'll see back next year, which bodes well if we can refocus ourselves to paying attention to details of our possession and defending.”

Franklin Regional will lose four seniors in Gionna Fonseca, Cassidy LeDonne, Mallory Leiper and Molly O'Toole. Fonseca and LeDonne were starters and key players for the Panthers this season.

“From a team standpoint, they all had roles to fill, and they filled them well,” Garland said of the seniors.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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