Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Field hockey: Franceschino to return as Seaters coach

Beth Franceschino, a former standout player and coach at Belvidere High School, is returning to the sidelines after a 10-year absence.

Franceschino, formerly Beth Pursell, is expected to be approved as the new head coach at Wednesday night's Board of Education meeting. Athletic director Timmothy Gast and assistant principal Jason Klebez did not return messages seeking comment.

Franceschino will take over for Kristin Gaitan, who recently stepped down after five seasons in charge of the Warren County program. Gaitan's teams went 55-35-6 overall and earned berths in the sectional playoffs in all five seasons -- going 0-5 in those games.

Gaitan will remain on staff as a health and physical education teacher at the high school. Franceschino, who had been coaching the seventh and eighth grade program, teaches fifth grade students at Oxford Street Elementary, adjacent to the high school.

"This was a really hard deciscion, but I am expecting another baby, my fourth child in the middle of [next] season on Oct. 12, said Gaitan, who coached the majority of her time at Belvidere while pregnant. "I've done it before, the first year [at Belvidere], I had the exact same due date. I was back at practice five to seven days later.

"But family dynamics change and going from two to four [kids] is a big difference. My husband [Harold] has been a single parent during the field hockey season. It was a really hard choice and he said if I wanted to do it, we'd make it work. But you miss a lot and I don't think people realize what your family gives up."

In 2013, Belvidere went 6-10-3 -- its only losing season under Gaitan and its first since going 6-11 in 2008. In 2011, the County Seaters finished 15-5 and reached the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament semifinals for the first time. The 15 wins were the most in a season since '96.

"I do feel I made an impact, we have a lot of kids playing [in college] and the kids play hockey year-round," said Gaitan, who played for Newton coach Lisa Bechtel and was on her staff before joining Belvidere in 2009. "I would've loved to win a section or a conference championship and I'm bummed we didn't. It doesn't mean I didn't enjoy every second of it. I was in it for the long haul, but things change."

Franceschino guided the County Seaters for six seasons from 1999 to 2004. Her '03 squad snapped the program's seven-year drought by qualifying for the state playoffs -- when teams needed to have a .500 record to get in -- and the '04 team went 10-9-1 with a state playoff berth in her final season. She's a link to the program's glory days.

As Beth Pursell, she was a star player under former legendary coach Sally Ueberroth, who guided the '96 team that captured the program's seventh and last sectional title. Belvidere is 0-8 in state playoff games since that title run, including a 4-0 loss to Boonton last season in a North 1, Group 1 first-round contest.

Ueberroth served two stints as head coach, retiring a second time following the 1998 season, and built Belvidere into a statewide powerhouse. Her teams went 130-41-12 overall in 10 seasons and made six Group 1 final appearances -- winning titles in 1989 and '90 -- and winning the Hunterdon-Warren Tournament championship in '92.

Belvidere has never enjoyed that kind of success before or after Ueberroth's tenure and has gone through five head coaches since '98 -- counting Franceschino's two stints. Meredith Hansler (2005) and Laurie Lefkowitz (2006-08) also served as head coaches.

"We created an award named after Sally, she was phenomenal," said Gaitan, who is expecting a son join her three daughters ages 8, 4 and 15 months. "When she was here there was a level of expectations. She is certainly to be admired. I'm hoping that it comes back."

Gaitan currently serves as a coach in the Belvidere youth program and will continue to do so, along with her varsity assistant, Caralee Gately. The pair formed the non-profit Skylands field hockey program, which also features an adult league.

"I know the potential this [Belvidere] program has," Gaitan said. "I know what's coming up and that was hard for me as well. There's some good talent coming up."

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