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Franklin Regional soccer making 'homecoming' in 2014-15

| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 7:18 p.m.
Doug Gulasy | Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional's Beth Kozuch (right) fends off a Gateway defender during a game on Aug. 31, 2013, at Franklin Regional High School.

Franklin Regional soccer is on the move again.

Two seasons after the boys and soccer programs moved from Section 3-AAA to Section 1, both Panthers teams will move back in 2014-15. The WPIAL announced alignments last week for cross country, field hockey, football, golf, soccer, tennis and volleyball for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.

“It'll be fun for the guys because it's essentially a homecoming for Franklin Regional,” boys soccer coach Ryan Montgomery said. “All those old rivalries get rekindled.”

The Panthers will join Fox Chapel, Gateway, Kiski Area, Penn Hills, Plum and Woodland Hills in the new boys Section 3. Kiski is moving with Franklin Regional to the new section after competing against the Panthers in Section 1 tje [ast two seasons.

While Franklin Regional made the playoffs the past two seasons in Section 1, Montgomery said he thought Section 3 would be more competitive top to bottom. Central Catholic and Allderdice, two of Section 3's playoff teams from last season, are moving to Section 4.

“Penn Hills is always going to be a tough opponent,” Montgomery said. “Woodland Hills, you can never take lightly. And certainly Plum's a big rival of ours, and Fox Chapel is Fox Chapel. With Kiski coming with us, there's certainly a grudge match there.”

On the girls side, Franklin Regional will join Fox Chapel, Gateway, Kiski, McKeesport, Penn Hills, Plum and Woodland Hills. Kiski is moving with the Panthers from Section 1 to Section 3, while McKeesport is joining the section from Section 4.

“I'm just excited to compete,” Franklin Regional coach Rich Garland said. “We've got a lot of rivalries in that Section 3 that will be renewed for a home-and-away contest. We're disappointed we won't get to compete in Section 1 against the strong teams that are there, Norwin and Penn-Trafford, but hopefully they'll be willing to schedule us. We enjoy those competitions, but we're looking to renew some old rivalries with Gateway, Plum, Penn Hills and Fox Chapel.”

Garland said he was intrigued not only by the renewal of old rivalries, but also the potential to develop a new one with McKeesport. He said he couldn't recall the last time the teams met.

Franklin Regional won Section 3 in 2011, the last time the Panthers competed there. Garland said the team would look to defend that title in 2014.

“That's the goal,” he said. “We're talented, but we have to pay attention to the details. Hopefully, we can come through.”

Franklin Regional is staying put in other sports, but some of the Panthers' opponents are changing.

In football, the Greater Allegheny Conference could become even stronger next season with the addition of 2013 playoff teams Gateway, moving down to Class AAA from Class AAAA, and Yough, moving up from Class AA. The Gators and Cougars replace Derry and Highlands, who both dropped to Class AA.

“It's going to be a week-in, week-out battle now,” Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta said. “I don't see a weak sister in the whole conference. With Yough and Gateway coming in, all that does is reaffirm how strong our conference will be.”

Botta said he was sad to see old rivalries with Highlands and Derry go, but the addition of Gateway will renew an old rivalry. The Gators and Panthers met every season from 1996-2003, including two playoff matchups. Botta said he couldn't remember playing Yough in his 20 years at Franklin Regional.

The Franklin Regional girls volleyball team will see a new conference rival, as Connellsville will replace Laurel Highlands in Section 1.

In tennis, former section opponent Greensburg Salem dropped from Class AAA to Class AA. Plum moved out of Franklin Regional's section in boys golf.

Class AAA girls golf saw a significant change, splitting from three sections to four. Franklin Regional will compete against Gateway, Indiana, Norwin and Penn-Trafford in its new section.

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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