Franklin Regional girls volleyball looks to build off historic 2018 season

Friday, August 30, 2019 | 8:09 PM

The Franklin Regional girls volleyball team was one of the feel-good stories of the WPIAL last season.

The Panthers were winless in section play in 2017. A year later, they not only made the playoffs, but notched the first postseason win in program history.

This year, Franklin Regional hopes to continue its climb.

Eight players who have seen significant playing time return, including junior All-WPIAL middle hitter Aly Kindelberger.

“Last year’s team set the precedent for other teams to recognize us as a valid competitor,” Franklin Regional coach Mike Feorene said. “We knew we had talent last year, and this year coming in, the players’ confidence is high and the coaches’ confidence is high. We know that we have the talent to compete at a high level. We have a couple positions to fill with players graduating, but if we can do that we should have a good run.”

Franklin Regional upset No. 6 Laurel Highlands, 3-1, in the first round and took eventual WPIAL runner-up Thomas Jefferson to five sets in the quarterfinals before flosing, 3-2.

The postseason experience instilled belief within the team.

“I feel pretty confident,” Kindelberger said. “We did lose some really key seniors, but we have a good group of girls coming up to replace them. I think we have a shot at winning our section and making a run in the playoffs, but as coach always tells us, we have to take it one game at a time.”

Franklin Regional debuted at No. 8 in the Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AAA preseason rankings. It’s the first time the Panthers have been ranked in the preseason poll.

The Panthers graduated outside hitters Rachel Reppermund, Maddie Breitkreutz and defensive specialist Gracie Painter but have depth all over the floor.

Senior returning starters are setters Elizabeth Sarneso and Piper Toto and defensive specialist Kara Soles. Hannah Flick, who missed last season with an ACL injury, is healthy and ready to return the lineup. Opposite hitter Renee Baldy, and libero Alexa Feorene are returning juniors who saw significant playing time. Sophomore Ashley Feorene was a serving specialist last year who will have a more prominent role this fall. Fellow sophomore Sydney Breitkreutz, Maddie’s younger sister, will be a part of Franklin Regional’s defense.

Feorene likes the depth of the underclassmen. He said they push the starters in practice, which makes them more prepared for games.

“The senior class has talentn, and the junior class is following right up behind them,” Feorene said. “Those junior members that haven’t already claimed a position are going to continually put pressure on the seniors that are on the court.”

Sarneso is the captain. Kindelberger said Sarneso’s presencemakes her a better players.

“Liz is great. She’s very intense, and I mean that in a good way,” Kindelberger said. “She really pushes you to be where you are supposed to be and do what you are supposed to do. She doesn’t sugarcoat stuff, but I appreciate that. It makes me better.”

Sarneso takes her role with pride and is looking forward to leading her team.

“I’m very grateful that coach (Feorene) saw something in me to make me a captain,” Sarneso said. “Having great role models like Maddie Breitkreutz and Gracie Painter last year and others before them. … I have big shoes to fill, but I want to be that person that can get the girls to believe that we can get through anything.”

The Panthers play in Section 1-3A with reigning section champ Armstrong, Gateway Greensburg Salem, Indiana, Kiski Area, McKeesport and Woodland Hills.

They finished third in section play last year .

Franklin Regional opens section play at McKeesport on Tuesday.

“We should have our long term goals in the back of our heads as players and coaches, but we don’t look past McKeesport,” Feorene said. “We’ll go down there and whatever good things we do, we’ll make better and keep following that philosophy.

“One of the things I’ve preached this year is that we have to practice like we’ve never won a game and play a game like you’ve never lost one. They’ve taken that mentality and run with it. That’s our motto for the year and hopefully we can back it up.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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