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Defensive improvements propel Franklin Regional to winning streak

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Lillian DeDomenic | For the Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional girls volleyball player Kelly Haley goes up for a kill during a match against Norwin on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, at Franklin Regional High School.

For the first half of the season, Franklin Regional girls volleyball coach Mike Feorene played the underdog card with his team before matches.

That changed before a section match last week against Latrobe, a team the Panthers beat during the first half of the section season.

Franklin Regional enjoyed its first game as favorites, sweeping Latrobe, 3-0, to extend a four-match winning streak. The team that hadn't won a section match in three seasons before this one entered Tuesday's contest with Penn-Trafford with a 5-3 record, including 4-3 in section play.

“I don't think we're at that peak point year, but I'd say we're definitely gelling,” Feorene said. “We've got a rough schedule coming up here, but we're going to enjoy the four-game winning streak.”

The Panthers' four-match winning streak coincides with a couple of lineup changes Feorene made before a nonsection contest against Gateway last month.

With the team in a three-match losing streak at the time, Feorene elected to move from a one-setter to a two-setter system, inserting junior Annie Painter into the lineup to pair with senior Mady Heil. Additionally, he moved middle hitter Kelly Haley to the weak side.

The changes helped the Panthers' defense by giving them a stronger block against opponents' outside hitters, Feorene said. The team's passing game has also improved, giving Franklin Regional a better defense overall.

Those improvements please Feorene, who focused on defense first after being hired in February.

“I think the compliments from other coaches, using words like ‘scrappy,' that we're all over the floor ... I always tell (the players) that defense inspires crowds and also inspires the other coaches to say, ‘Hey, this team gets after it,'” he said. “We've kind of set that as our character trait. We go out there and are nonstop. We do not give up on the ball.

“We make communication errors and things just like any other team does, but if the ball's 20 feet off the court, I've got the confidence that one of my players is pursuing it and two other girls are behind her, ready for her to pick the ball up.”

While the defense pleases Feorene, he also was glad to see the team's response to adversity earlier this season. The Panthers won their first section match against Latrobe but followed that with losses against 2012 playoff teams Hempfield, Norwin and Penn-Trafford.

Franklin Regional responded by embarking on its four-match winning streak, which includes the nonsection victory over Gateway as well as section triumphs over Laurel Highlands, Kiski and Latrobe.

“They could have easily gone into the gutter (after) losing against Hempfield, Penn-Trafford and Norwin and said, ‘Here we are, back to where we were before,'” Feorene said. “And they didn't do that.”

The Panthers began a difficult stretch in their schedule with a home match Tuesday night against Penn-Trafford. Over the next week, the team will also play matches against Norwin, Hempfield and tough nonsection opponent Fox Chapel.

While he knows his team will be the underdog once again in those matches, Feorene said he's looking forward to them.

“It's a high level of competition,” he said. “We've prepared for a long time to play these types of games.”

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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