Monday, June 2, 2014

Field hockey: Franceschino link to Seaters' glory days

Beth Franceschino never really stepped away from Belvidere's field hockey program.

She resigned following the 2004 season, but has coached in some capacity since then, guiding the youth and seventh-eighth grade programs. Now, after a 10-year hiatus on the high school level, Franceschino is back as the County Seaters' head coach.

"I never really kind of stopped," said Franceschino, who replaces Kristin Gaitan after being approved during Thursday's board of education meeting to become Belvidere's fifth head coach since the legendary Sally Ueberroth retired in 1998. "I started a camp and started the feeder program with Kristin and Vicki Call [wife of Warren Hills athletic trainer and former Belvidere athlete Kevin Call]. I also coached my [daughters'] team."

Franceschino, a former star player at Belvidere when she was Beth Pursell, is now tasked with trying to help the Warren County program become a major player once again on the Group 1 level. The Seaters were a Group 1 and statewide powerhouse under Ueberroth, whose teams went 130-41-12 over 10 seasons and made six Group 1 finals appearances -- winning championships in 1989 and '90.

Franceschino, a standout defensive player, was a senior on the '92 squad that claimed the Hunterdon-Warren Tournament championship -- the first Warren County program to win the title.

Can Belvidere return to those glory days?

"I'm hoping we can," said Franceschino, who gave birth to twin daughters, Gianna and Olivia, in 2005. "I feel like it's kind of getting back there. The numbers [of players in the program] were low, but they are starting to come back up. We have big sixth- and seventh-grade classes."

Gaitan had things moving in the right direction. In her five seasons, Belvidere racked up 55 victories -- 15 in 2011 when the Seaters advanced to the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament semifinals for the only time in program history. The 2010 team won 14 games, but the program took a step back in '13 by finishing 6-10-3, the only losing season under Gaitan.

But the postseason is where Belvidere hasn't made noise in almost two decades. Since winning their seventh and last sectional title in '96, the Seaters are 0-8 in state games, including a 4-0 loss to Boonton in last year's North 1, Group 1 playoffs.

Franceschino's 2003 team snapped the school's six-year drought without a state playoff appearance. Back then, teams needed to be at least .500 in order to qualify. Now, sub-.500 teams can get in to fill out a 16-man bracket.

But before Belvidere starts making postseason plans, Franceschino will need to get familiar with her players and a new conference alignment. The Skyland Conference, which once had just two divisions when she last coached, is expanding to four starting with the 2014-15 school year.

The Seaters will be in the new four-team Mountain Division, joining Mount St. Mary, North Plainfield and South Hunterdon. Being away from this level for a decade will also provided a challenge as far as coaching style. The plus side is now having a feeder program.

"I know a couple of the players and I know there are some good girls and freshmen coming in," Franceschino said. "It was harder for me [taking over for Ueberroth in 1999] because I was right out of college and close in age to the players. This time will be a little easier of a transition, some do know me. It will be nice having kids that have started [playing] earlier. I won't have to teach them how to hold a stick. They'll  be coming in at a higher level."

Belvidere will have a challenging schedule to deal with as well. In addition to Bernards (17-5) and South Hunterdon (16-5), last year's co-champions of the Valley Division, the Seaters will face state power Voorhees (16-5) along with NJAC heavyweights High Point (16-2-3) and Lenape Valley (15-6-1), as well as Hackettstown (12-8), last year's HWS runner-up.

"I would like to travel less and play more local teams," said Franceschino, who is hoping to get Warren Hills back on the schedule.

The Seaters and Blue Streaks played annually from 1965-89 as members of the old Delaware River Conference. But the schools have met just 16 times since 1990 and have not played each other since 2005. Warren Hills holds a 32-21-10 edge in the series (including five meetings in the county tournament) and won 11 in a row from 1997 to '05.

Franceschino's teams went 0-6 against Warren Hills and were outscored 38-3 in those meetings. Belvidere's last win in the series was 1-0 in 1996 when it went to the Group 1 final, while Warren Hills reached its first Group 3 title game that season.

Belvidere schedule for 2014

Friday, Sept 5 -- at North Plainfield, 3:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 9 -- at Somerville, 4 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 11 -- South Hunterdon, 3:45 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 16 -- Franklin, 3:45 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 18 -- at Mount St. Mary, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 20 -- at North Warren, noon
Tuesday, Sept. 23 -- at Bernards, 4 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 25 -- at Phillipsburg, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 27 -- at Lenape Valley, 10 a.m.
Monday, Sept. 29 -- Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg (Pa.), 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 30 -- North Plainfield, 4 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 2 -- Delaware Valley, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 4 -- Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex first round, TBA
Thursday, Oct. 9 -- at Voorhees, 3:45 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 10 -- at High Point, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 14 -- Mount St. Mary, 3:45 p.m.
Wednesday, Oct. 15 -- Blair Academy, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 18 -- North Hunterdon, 10 a.m.
Thursday, Oct. 23 -- Hackettstown, 3:45 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 25 -- at South Hunterdon, 1 p.m.

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