Monday, July 27, 2015

Field hockey: Warren Hills closing in on new coach

With the field hockey season a mere 16 days from the start of official practices for the upcoming season, it appears Warren Hills' search for a head coach is coming to an end.

According to several sources, former Lenape Valley coach Kate Rothman appears to be the leading candidate. Former Hackettstown and Pope John coach Gina DiMaio also is in the running for the vacant job. Warren Hills officials are expected to make a decision, perhaps as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday. Athletic director Peter Lubrecht is away on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

The Blue Streaks, coming off the best season in program history that culminated with its first Group 3 championship, have been without a coach since Laurie Kerr resigned due to family reasons in early June. Several other candidates, according to multiple sources, have interviewed for the job, including former Streaks star Toni Popinko and current Hackettstown coach Steve Speirs.

Toni Popinko has since withdrawn her name from consideration and was recently appointed as a health and physical education teacher at Phillipsburg, where she also serves as an assistant field hockey coach on Jennifer Paulus' staff.

With no teaching positions available, Warren Hills' search became more difficult, along with the timing of Kerr's resignation.

Rothman revived the Lenape Valley program during her three-year tenure as the Sussex County school's head coach, inheriting a program that went 1-15-2 in 2010 and had won a total of 84 games in 11 seasons.

The Patriots went 20-34-3 from 2011-13, finishing 15-6-1 and reaching the North 1, Group 1 semifinals, where they lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to eventual champ Mountain Lakes, in her final season. Lenape also reached the quarterfinals in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament, dropping a 3-2 decision in overtime to Voorhees.

Rothman, who has also served as Hackettstown's middle school coach, was not rehired for the 2014 season. The Patriots went 14-6 and won the NJAC Freedom Division title this past season under Lauren Fasano, but were stunned by Kittatinny, 2-1, in the North 1, Group 1 semifinals. They also dropped a 5-0 decision at Warren Hills on Sept. 20.

DiMaio sports an overall coaching mark of 145-102-18 in stints at Hackettstown, Newark Academy and Pope John, where she spent the last three seasons before retiring last December. The Lions finished 10-9-1 overall and 6-2 in the NJAC American Division, while advancing to the Non-Public North quarterfinals.

But DiMaio made her mark at Hackettstown, where she resurrected a program that had been idle for 15 years. DiMaio took over in 2001 and the school spent one season on the junior varsity level before becoming a varsity program in '02.

The Tigers enjoyed immediate success as they qualified for the state playoffs in 2003 and every year after until '09. Hackettstown went a combined 111-49-9 in her eight seasons in charge, winning three Skyland Conference Raritan Division titles and the school's only two Hunterdon-Warren Tournament championships in 2004 and '05.

In the spring of 2010, DiMaio, a standout defensive player during her high school days at Belvidere, was informed that she would not be rehired for a ninth season at Hackettstown. She then was hired as the head coach at Newark Academy for the 2010 season.

Warren Hills is coming off its most successful campaign in 50 seasons, finishing 23-4 -- a school single-season record for wins -- and capturing both its 12th sectional title and the program's first state title with a thrilling 5-4 overtime win against nemesis Ocean City in the Group 3 final. It's also the first state championship in any female sport for the Warren County school.

Kerr, a former star player at Warren Hills and 1987 graduate, turned the program into a state powerhouse during her 15 seasons at the helm. Her teams went 264-71-12 overall and won or shared six Skyland Conference Delaware or Raritan Division titles and the school's only county championships in 2009, '11, '13 and '14.

In addition, the Streaks claimed eight of their 12 sectional titles and appeared in the Group 3 finals seven times under Kerr, who surpassed her predecessor and coach Luanne Ferenci (226-101-41 from 1981-99) as the winningest coach in program history.

The Washington/Warren Hills program is 601-250-92 overall. The 600th win came on Nov. 12, 2014, a 6-1 victory over Northern Highlands in the Group 3 semifinals. A 4-2 loss to Oak Knoll in the school's first Tournament of Champions appearance ended an 11-game win streak.

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