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Franklin Regional volleyball building for future

| Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Aaron Loughner | For the Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional rising senior Amy Alfieri (center) digs the ball during a match against Fox Chapel on Oct. 10, 2012.
Aaron Loughner | For the Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional's Muriel Pokol serves during a match against Fox Chapel on Oct. 10, 2012.

After three consecutive winless seasons in section play, the Franklin Regional volleyball team likely will look different in 2013.

That's by design, as new coach Mike Feorene spent the summer implementing changes from the old system and evaluating how the team's players fit into his scheme.

“Any coach's job is to fine-tune things and put people in the right positions, and that's kind of in the tryout stage right now,” Feorene said. “We've had some girls make transitions between playing outside to middle, and some moved from the middle to outside. I told them it was kind of like an interview — you put your best foot forward in an interview, and I want to see what you've got every time you walk out on that court.

“It may seem like we're just going in there and getting some swings and everything else, but one thing I do is take a ton of notes on the kids no matter what they're doing and what situation they're in.”

The notes aren't just mental, either — Feorene said he had a notebook full of his evaluations.

Franklin Regional began fall practice earlier this week looking to end its recent string of losing and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

Feorene, who began the Norwin boys volleyball program and built the Knights into one of the top teams in WPIAL Class AAA, said he looked forward to the challenge.

“It's my kind of flavor,” he said. “I like everything it's offering me. If a coach doesn't like a challenge ... it's just part of the game. I don't care what sport you're in, it's a puzzle, and it's your job (as coach) to figure out how to put it all together.”

Through summer workouts and open gyms, the new coach already is seeing improvements. Players began strength and conditioning workouts at 7 a.m. throughout the summer, doing both sprints and distance runs as well as plyometrics and other leg-strengthening exercises.

“This team is beyond in shape,” Feorene said.

Schematically, Franklin Regional's offense will look different this year. Feorene implemented a system that he said is “all about speed.”

“We don't have any 9-foot-3 players,” he said. “We have a little bit of height, but the only way we're going to compete and compete at a high level as we're going along and to stay with these teams is to have the fastest attack we possibly can.”

The Panthers will be led this season by a strong group of seniors and juniors. Feorene said he looked to senior hitter Monica Merante and junior Gillian Kane as team leaders.

Kane, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee before last season, could either play a defensive role or be an outside hitter, Feorene said.

“I describe (Kane) as nothing more than a workhorse,” Feorene said. “She's a nonstop piston. There's just some girls who have no fear of the floor. This is a girl who would run through the wall to get the ball, bounce off it, get back up and figure out where the ball went.”

Junior Shawn Busche could fill a role as either an outside hitter or middle blocker, and senior Mady Heil and junior Annie Painter are competing at setter.

The Panthers' depth did take a hit when junior Kelly Haley tore her ACL, but Feorene said she might be able to return this season.

Franklin Regional is scheduled to play scrimmages Tuesday at Gateway and Aug. 27 at Hampton before opening the regular season with the Franklin Regional Tournament on Aug. 31.

After the three straight winless seasons, Feorene is hoping to build for the future. The main goal for the 2013 season is to stay competitive in a section that includes 2012 playoff teams in Hempfield, Norwin and Penn-Trafford.

“This is a building process for this team,” Feorene said. “I'm not just looking at Year 1. I'm looking at what these kids can do two or three years down the line for me.”

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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