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Franklin Regional volleyball showing marked improvement

| Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional volleyball player Jazmyn Charles prepares to play the ball at the net during a match against Norwin on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, at Franklin Regional High School.

Franklin Regional senior Monica Merante worked as a manager for the Panthers' volleyball team during her freshman year in 2010, so she remembers the beginning of the Panthers' three-season section losing streak.

The reminder of those three seasons without a section victory made a season-opening victory this year against Latrobe that much sweeter.

“I was there for basically every loss,” Merante said. “Being there for that first game (this season), it was a feeling you can't even imagine.”

Four matches into this section season, Franklin Regional's record stands at 1-3. That marks an improvement from the previous three seasons, and coach Mike Feorene said his team is continuing to grow.

“My No. 1 goal (this season) was to win a section match,” Feorene said. “I didn't know if that was capable of happening or not. (Another goal was) just being competitive. I'm very comfortable in saying we're right where I expected us to be. In fact, I would say at some point I'm actually more comfortable saying we're above where I thought we'd be.

“These guys learned very quickly. They're a pretty solid unit as far as a group where they mesh well together. (And) as far as playing with heart, they play very, very hard.”

Franklin Regional's three section losses came against 2012 playoff teams in Hempfield, Norwin and Penn-Trafford. Feorene said the team played well in the Hempfield and Penn-Trafford losses but not as well against Norwin.

Additionally, the team had a strong showing in its own tournament, where it beat Freeport, one of the top teams in Class AA, and Bishop Carroll, which went on to win the tournament. The Panthers followed that up by advancing to the gold bracket at the Shaler Tournament, where they split games with both Norwin and Penn-Trafford.

When he took over as coach prior to the season, Feorene emphasized defense. The players are noticing the effects.

“As a smaller team, it's really important to have good defense,” junior Jazmyn Charles said. “That's really picking up this year, and our consistency as hitters is getting better as well.”

Charles said Feorene installed more set plays, which helps the team's offense strike more quickly.

While he said he had seen improvement from the team, Feorene said he would still like the Panthers to get better at minimizing mistakes.

“Our biggest thing we need to correct is we make a lot of unforced errors, mostly from the fact that we either hit balls out of bounds or hit the ball into the net — that type of thing,” he said. “That's something we're trying to correct right now. Overall, I have small hitters. I do have some height, but part of (the reason for the errors) is they're trying to get around the block, which is causing it. That's the No. 1 fix in my mind.”

Feorene said he creates goals for his team on a daily basis.

After the victory against Latrobe, the players have a goal of their own: getting the next victory. Franklin Regional hosted Gateway on Tuesday and will host Laurel Highlands at 7:30 p.m. Thursday as it seeks that next taste of victory.

“The first one was our main goal because once you've gone 0-and-I-don't-know-how-many for so long, you just really want that first win,” Merante said. “But now since we know what we had to do in order to get that win, we just want to keep it up and see if we can get more.”

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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