Nearly two weeks after the last Open Mike post, Warren Hills' state championship field hockey program is still without a head coach just weeks away from the official start of the fall season on Monday, Aug. 10.
According to multiple sources and what has been reported here previously, several candidates have either applied or interviewed for the position, which opened when former head coach Laurie Kerr surprisingly stepped down due to family reasons in early June.
Former Blue Streaks standout Toni Popinko was among the candidates to interview. Popinko, an assistant coach at Phillipsburg, recently withdrew her name from consideration. One sticking point in this process is there are no health and physical education openings at Warren Hills.
Popinko, a four-year starter from 2006-09 and a key player on the '09 team that won a sectional title and reached the Group 3 final, ranks fifth all-time on the Streaks' career points list with 117 and is among the top 10 in career goals (39) and assists (27).
Other candidates to at least inquire about the Warren Hills coaching job, according to multiple sources, include Hackettstown coach Stephen Speirs, who sources said interviewed with Streaks athletic director Peter Lubrecht late last week. Lubrecht, who is on vacation until later this month, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment on Thursday.
Speirs, a 1980 Warren Hills graduate, would neither confirm nor deny that he in fact interviewed at his alma mater, but emphatically stated that he isn't leaving Hackettstown.
"I'm flattered that Warren Hills would be interested, but I'm in a great position where I am," Speirs said during a phone conversation on Wednesday evening. "I'm very loyal to the players and people that have gotten [the program] to that place. I have a lot of support from my superintendent [David Mango] and athletic director [Bob Grauso]. I wish Warren Hills and the players all the best in the search."
In five seasons under Speirs, Hackettstown is 50-43-2 overall, including a 15-5 campaign this past season in which the Tigers reached the North 1, Group 2 semifinals, beating Parsippany, 3-1, in the quarterfinals for the program's first state playoff victory since 2010. The 15 wins were the most for the Tigers since 2009. In addition, the Tigers reached the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex final in 2013, dropping a 1-0 decision to Warren Hills. His daughter, Lexie, scored the game-winning goal for Hackettstown in its 2004 Hunterdon-Warren title win at Warren Hills -- the first of the Tigers' only two county championships.
Speirs' teams are 0-6 against Warren Hills and have been outscored 24-1 in those meetings, which include two HWS matchups in 2013 and '14. The Streaks hold a commanding 39-4-3 edge in the all-time series dating to 1969, including a pair of 3-0 wins in '14. The Tigers' last win was 2-1 in '06.
Warren Hills, which opens the season at home against Madison on Friday, Sept. 4, will travel to Hackettstown for an independent contest the following Thursday.
Selena Agnor, a former player at Wallkill Valley and a volunteer assistant coach on Speirs' staff last season was also said to have interviewed for the Warren Hills job. Agnor, who also played at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., is a teacher at Mansfield Elementary school in the Warren Hills district.
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 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 in 50 seasons. 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.