Dave Alexander knows about the pride that Franklin Regional High School has had in its boys lacrosse program.
The first-year Franklin Regional head coach wants to restore the feeling the Panthers and their fans had when the team won three Western Pennsylvania Scholastic Lacrosse Association team championships in 1995, 1996 and 1998 and a runner-up finish in the WPIAL championships in 2010.
The WPIAL first sanctioned girls lacrosse in 2004. Recognition/sanctioning of the boys sport began five years later.
"I made a point of showing them the banner that displayed our championships [in the 1990s]," said Alexander, who played on the 1995 and 1996 WPSLA championship teams. "I told them we need to strive for that."
A primary point will be avoiding the collapse the team had midway through last season. After winning their first six games, the Panthers lost seven consecutive games that included successive 8-7 defeats to Thomas Worthington of Ohio and WPIAL Division I, Section 2 opponent Pine-Richland.
Alexander, who had been the school's junior varsity coach for five seasons, has worked with his players on some deficiencies.
"We've always had a running program, but I've turned it up a little bit," he said. "My goal is to get more out of them."
Alexander also beefed up his staff. Six coaches now guide the Panthers.
"We've instituted plyometrics into our training along with other fitness items," he said. "When the players aren't on the field, they will be working on their fitness with a coach at one of these stations. More players will get individual assistance from the coaches."
The Panthers began the season with successive losses on the road to Eastern Pennsylvania teams Easton and Nazareth by margins of 8-7 and 9-6.
"We played those two games without any scrimmages," Alexander said. "What I saw was that those two teams were beatable, and we now have an idea of where we need to work to improve."
Alexander will have a little time to work on those areas before opening the local part of the season with a non-section home game next Monday against perennial WPIAL power Sewickley Academy.
"For the most part, we did a great job, but we have some things we need to work on," he said about his team's first two games.
Like most sports, lacrosse is a sport where a solid defense is prized more than a great offense coupled with a suspect defense.
Alexander is pleased with his team's defense, particularly Luke Stephens, a senior long-stick defender who is a four-year starter and one of the team's four captains.
"He is the anchor of our defense," the coach said of Stephens, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound Murrysville resident. "He is the type of player who motivates the team on the defensive side."
Alexander led the team with groundball takeaways in the Panthers' first two games. He creates havoc with the opposing team's offense.
He cited Stephens' efforts in the Panthers' loss to Nazareth this past Saturday.
"Luke went up against their best player [Grant Searfoss], who has committed to play at Maryland-Baltimore County," Alexander said. "That's a good program, and Luke just shut [Searfoss] down. He just picked him apart. I played attack, and Luke is the kind of kid you don't want to go up against."
Alexander also expects solid seasons from midfielders Tanner Roberts and Devin Arrigo and goalie Luke Zattola. Roberts, a 6-1, 185-pound senior, and Zattola, a 5-8, 150-pound senior, are also from Murrysville. Arrigo, a 6-2, 195-pound junior, is from Export.
"We can use [Tanner] at midfield or at attack, Alexander said. "He never comes off the field."
Alexander is pleased Arrigo has returned after missing his sophomore season with a broken hand.
"We're happy to have him back," he said. "He's the kind of kid who is always working on his game."
Zattola got plenty of experience in goal as a junior. He faced plenty of action this past weekend with 14 saves against Easton and 12 against Nazareth.
"Any time you have a save percentage of 50 to 70 percent in lacrosse, that's a good effort," the coach said. "He's not the biggest kid either, so he's got a lot of work trying to defend a 6-by-6 goal."
Alexander is excited with the team's growth. When he played in the 1990s, the sport was offered in just 16 area schools.
"This year, 40 boys teams are playing," he said. "I think that's fantastic for our sport."
Alexander hopes his team is in the playoff chase this year. Despite that seven-game losing streak, the Panthers were in the 2012 WPIAL playoffs, losing a first-round game to Mt. Lebanon, 11-5. The Blue Devils eventually placed third and advanced to the PIAA tournament.
"I think there are four to five teams each year that have a chance to win the WPIAL championship," he said. "I hope we're among those teams."