Thursday, July 2, 2015

Field hockey: Warren Hills still searching for coach

It isn't exactly ideal to be conducting the search for a new head coach in early July.

But that's what Warren Hills' field hockey program is faced with after last month's surprising resignation by Laurie Kerr, who stepped down after 15 highly successful seasons in charge at her alma mater due to "family reasons." The move was first reported by Open Mike.

The Blue Streaks are coming off their 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.

Warren Hills athletic director Pete Lubrecht said "a few" candidates have applied or interviewed for the job, but he declined to reveal names. According to multiple sources, former Warren Hills star player Toni Popinko, now an assistant coach at Phillipsburg, interviewed for the Streaks' job.

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).

"This is an important spot, we recognize that. But it's important to strike a balance. We are giving it our due diligence like any other position, but we don't want to sacrifice being thorough to rushing into something. We are sensitive to the time [of year] and I don't want to be here in August having the same conversation."

Kerr's top assistant coach Josie Potter (nee Schantzenbach), another former standout player for the Streaks and team MVP in 1998, also resigned from the coaching staff in June. Laura Blackwell, who is highly regarded as the program's middle school coach, supposedly has not applied for the varsity job.

Another in-house candidate, Courtney Hoffman (nee Fritts) and former top player for the Streaks, confirmed via text message that she will not seek the job due to family reasons. Hoffman was an assistant coach at Ocean Township for several seasons.

One potential sticking point for a new hire is also getting a teaching position. Currently, there are no physical education openings at Warren Hills and most positions for the next school year are typically filled during the spring. The superintendent of schools can approve a coaching hire at any time to expedite the process. The next board of education meeting is scheduled for Aug. 23.

With the fall sports season scheduled to officially begin in mid-August, time is certainly of the essence to getting a head coach into place. Lubrecht said there is no specific time frame to hire a coach, as the school wants to get the best person for what's been a high profile program in all of New Jersey.

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.

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