If the two-time defending state Group I champion New Providence High School girls soccer team feels it doesn’t get enough credit, the Pioneers finally have a chance to prove they belong in the conversation with the rest of the area’s elite programs.
After playing in the Union County Conference Mountain Division — the middle of the UCC’s three divisions — since the league was formed in 2009, and winning three straight titles, New Providence has joined Oak Knoll in moving up to the Watchung Division, where it will face the likes of Westfield, Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Summit twice each regular season.
And that’s fine with coach Scott Murphy, whose team hasn’t lost a division game since 2008. He knows facing powerhouses regularly is going to make it a lot harder to post eye-popping final records, but that’s never been what’s important to a coach who has won three state titles since 2003.
“I understand it’s a huge level of competition, but I feel deep down and my players believe that its good for us and it can only make us better,” said Murphy, whose team went 18-1-1 last year. “We understand our record isn’t going to be what it’s been in the past, but our goal hasn’t been to have a great record, it’s to get to the state tournament and win it.”
For all the success the Pioneers have enjoyed in recent seasons, the county tournament has still been an Achilles heel. New Providence has won 16 games or more in each of the past four years, won three conference titles, four sectional titles and two state crowns, yet the Pioneers have gone 4-4 in the Union County Tournament, never advancing past the semifinals.
On the Move
As New Providence gets acclimated to its new surroundings, a couple of other teams are also changing addresses.
The Skyland Conference Valley Division is lighter by one team as North Warren departs for the Sussex County League. But the gap won’t last long, as South Hunterdon is reportedly set to move up to varsity next fall and will replace the departed Patriots in the Valley Division. The Eagles have played JV the past three seasons and athletics director Jason Miller said he expects the program to move up to the big leagues next year.
Rutgers Prep, which joined the NJSIAA this season and will finally compete in the state tournament, could also join the Skyland during the next two years and would figure to land in the Valley.
On the state level, Scotch Plains-Fanwood moves from Group III to Group IV, while Governor Livingston goes from a Group II to a Group III.
Hunterdon Central, which has competed in North 2 Group IV the past few years, goes back to Central Group IV for the 2012 campaign.
Five new coaches join the ranks, including changes at the helms of two of Somerset County’s top programs.
Chris Gerber is the new head coach at Bridgewater-Raritan, replacing Kelli Ten Kate (nee Brennan), who took a principal job at an elementary school in Flemington after four years guiding the Panthers.
Watchung Hills is employing its third head coach in as many seasons, as Sean Mealy takes over for Dan Root after one season. Root, who replaced longtime coach Pete Lubrecht last season, will serve as Mealy’s assistant.
Other changes include Woo Min Wong taking over the Voorhees top job from Jen O’Neill after spending three years as an assistant for the boys team. North Plainfield also has a new head coach, as Charlie Rowan takes over for Kathy Dailey, who departs after six seasons, while Bernie Buniak, who is the Dunellen boys basketball coach, takes the helm of the girls soccer team for the departed Dana Orsucci.