Franklin Regional girls chasing another section title

Monday, August 28, 2017 | 6:18 PM

After winning at least a share of the last two section titles, the Franklin Regional girls soccer team has become accustomed to winning.

So even after losing a player the caliber of Autumn Velasquez, an all-WPIAL selection with 31 goals last season, the Panthers have their sights set on another section title with playoff success in 2017.

“The history and tradition of Franklin Regional soccer has been winning, so I think the girls coming up and the girls of the past like that winning tradition. And when you win it creates excitement, not only for the team, but for the school,” coach Rich Garland said.

“The players who were on the team last year know what it feels like to win, and it's a great feeling, so we're working to achieve that again,” added senior center back Calla Solomon.

Despite finishing last year with an impressive 14-4-1 record, Franklin Regional dropped its first-round playoff matchup. But with six returning seniors for the defending co-Section 1-AAA champions, Garland believes the Panthers return a group that can help the team take the next step.

“We really want to get deep into the playoffs this year,” he said. “We've got a strong senior leadership group that I think can weather the storm and take us far.”

Highlighting the returnees for Franklin Regional are returning all-WPIAL selections in senior midfielder Sophia Hudson and junior goalkeeper Tiffany Jolayemi, while senior midfielder Lydia Jaskey is back after earning all-section honors a year ago.

Garland said the offense will run through Hudson, who is more of a playmaker, as well as Jaskey, who will be relied upon to be Franklin Regional's primary goal-scorer.

“She's going to be the playmaker,” Garland said of Hudson. “She wants the ball to her feet.”

“I think Lydia's coming out to prove something this year,” he added. “She's a very gifted soccer player. She's strong, physical and fast.”

The Panthers also will look to junior Rasa Vaicenas and freshman Brooke Horvath for offensive production.

On defense, Solomon will anchor the back line, while sophomore Anna Phillips and Emma Toms will provide support in front of Jolayemi.

Garland and the Panthers are focused on the details as the team prepares for its season opener against Moon on Sept. 2. The coach said the team is working on connecting passes to allow it to get creative in the attacking third of the field to control the pace of play.

“If we hang onto the ball, the other team can't score, so we've got to connect passes, keep the ball away from them, play into space and finish our chances,” Garland said.

If they're able to take steps toward achieving those goals, the Panthers believe they have what it takes to make another run toward the top of the section standings.

“I think it's going to be a lot of hard work, but I do feel like we have the potential to defend our section title,” Solomon said.

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.


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