Franklin Regional boys lacrosse team hopes to maintain level of success

Friday, April 5, 2019 | 5:14 PM

In 2018, the Franklin Regional boys lacrosse team made the WPIAL playoffs for the second straight year, doing so for the first time in six years.

Although they lost in the first round both times, the Panthers have made the necessary changes within the program to continue their success in the future. That type of improvement, both on the field and within the team, was something third-year coach Justin Meenan wanted to accomplish when he took over the program.

“I think it was just a culture change, that was the biggest thing,” Meenan said. “I had goals in my head as far as record goes. But, really, I wasn’t even concerned with that. I was concerned with culture change and trying to build a successful program. That was the goal, and I think we are continually working on that each year.”

Franklin Regional’s 2018 campaign came to a close with a 16-1 loss to WPIAL Class AAA runner-up North Allegheny, and the graduation of a senior class that was filled with several players who provided both leadership and talent on the field. Although that talent was a big loss, Meenan believes the Panthers still have players who have the ability to fill the voids.

To start, goaltender Ethan Johnston returns. Last season, he split time with senior goaltender Shaun Pursley. This year, Johnston will be Franklin Regional’s netminder fulltime, and through their first few games the senior hasn’t disappointed.

“Ethan has been pretty phenomenal; we’ve only had three games, but he’s been pretty phenomenal this season,” Meenan said.

On defense, Johnston is joined by defensemen Ben Wohlin. Meenan said both players have played a key role on the defensive end because of their leadership capabilities. Wohlin has been responsible for taking on the opponent’s best offensive player.

“He has the toughest match-up each and every game,” Meenan said. “He guards the other team’s best attackmen and does a solid job every night.”

In the midfield, Meenan has a trio of players who have played key roles over the past two years and will play even bigger ones this year. Mitchell Debiase, Greg Baird and Lex Hurey will be those guys and Meenan related them to the backbone of the team, while having the ability to transition the game from offense to defense.

Riley Blair will play a key role on the attacking end; he’s one of the Panthers’ top contributors in goals and assists. While the Panthers have talent in spots all over the field, one thing they will have to overcome is a lack of experience, which is something Meenan hopes will come with time.

“We have a lot of guys that are first-year varsity guys, and then we have maybe four or five guys that have switched positions that are playing at the varsity level for the very first time,” he said. “So we really have to rely on the guys that have the varsity experience and hope and work with those guys that are first-year guys and get them seasoned quick.”

There will be a lot of growing pains for the Panthers this season, but Meenan believes he has an idea of what it will take to be successful this season.

“I think we just have to keep working, take it one day at a time and keep working to get better,” Meenan said. “I think with the team we are now, it might be rough coming into the season, but we have all that time; we have a month and a half to keep getting better, and I think we’re on pace to do that right now.”


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