Nancy Sturcke had already been a successful leader of high school athletes before she succeeded physics teacher Bob Penny as the second girls’ tennis coach at Roselle Park in the fall of 1977.
A health and physical education teacher at Roselle Park beginning in 1963, the North Plainfield native previously was highly-effective in coaching girls’ basketball teams at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth and then the first field hockey and girls’ basketball squads at Roselle Park.
However, tennis – the fourth girls’ varsity sport at Roselle Park – was her passion.
“I really love the challenge,” said Sturcke, who just concluded her 40th and final season as the girls’ tennis coach at Roselle Park. “I worked with some of the nicest kids in the school and tennis just a fun sport.”
Sturcke, a Springfield College graduate, loved the sport so much that when she retired from teaching in 1998 she never gave a thought to retire from coaching.
“To be able to teach raw players the fundamentals were also a big challenge and I wanted to continue doing that,” Sturcke said. “It’s been so satisfying to see the growth.
“Sometimes it clicks, but it’s all good. I always enjoyed it.”
The only years Sturcke was not the girls’ tennis coach at Roselle Park were 1975 and 1976 when Penny guided the Panthers. Whomever succeeds Sturcke will be just the third girls’ tennis coach the program has ever known.
“I’ve never been around a person more professional and dedicated to her craft,” said present Roselle Park Athletic Director James Foy, a 1990 Roselle Park graduate who was previously the head coach and then also a valued assistant coach of the varsity football team.
“She’s the first lady of Roselle Park athletics.”
Sturcke began playing the game of tennis after high school.
“There was no team when I was in high school, so my first real exposure with tennis was when I took it as a phys. Ed. class in college,” Sturcke said. “I then started to play the game on my own.
“I was just an average player, but really liked the game. I started to play more and more and just evolved gradually and enjoyed it.
“I worked on my game and took lessons. I then coached workshops, which also helped me with my game.”
Sturcke guided the girls’ tennis team to more than 500 victories, with victory No. 500 coming this fall at Rahway.
As many as 32 winning seasons included Group 1 state championship teams in 1986 and 1997; North 2, Group 1 sectional state championship squads in 1986, 1993 and 1997 and Central Jersey, Group 1 sectional state championship teams in 2003, 2004 and 2009.
Present junior varsity coach Melissa Rinaldi-Hahn – a 2004 Roselle Park graduate who is a mathematics teacher at Roselle Park – was a senior on Roselle Park’s first CJ, G1 sectional state championship team, the 2003 squad that fashioned an impressive 18-3 mark.
“As a former Roselle Park student and tennis player, I am privileged to have had more than one opportunity to learn from the greatest,” Rinaldi-Hahn said. “When she was my coach her expertise and knowledge of the sport were evident, but the things I remember most are her integrity and dedication.
“Working with her now as an assistant coach I see that what she makes look easy stems from a commitment and work ethic that most cannot compare to. She inspires me to keep learning, growing my abilities as a player and coach and to handle every situation with a quiet calmness and determination.
“She is truly one of a kind and in a class all her own.”
Sturcke had several players that were among the best in New Jersey from a small school standpoint. Four of them – Catherine Finizio, Class of 1987; Nicole Tango, Class of 1998; Erica Ollinick, Class of 2005; and Rebecca Vera, Class of 2010 played singles all four years.
Finizio, the winningest among the four with a final record of 81-24 (.771), was the only one to play first singles all four years. She was just recently inducted into the fifth class of the Roselle Park Hall of Fame.
Finizio’s senior season of 1986 – Sturcke’s 10th team – won the Group 1 state championship with a win over Mahwah and finished with a program-best record of 25-1, losing only its final match of the season to Group 4 state champion West Orange in the Tournament of Champions. Roselle Park won 16 matches that year by the score of 5-0 and another one 4-0.
Finizio went on to star collegiately at St. John’s.
The 1997 team, sparked by senior twins Nicole and Jennifer Tango at first and second singles, captured the Group 1 state championship by defeating Montgomery in the final. That squad went 19-2, losing only once in the regular season to Scotch Plains and then to Group 3 state champion Millburn in the TOC.
“Coach Sturcke was always very humble,” Foy said. “Her dedication is endless. She spends her summer with the kids and runs our Roselle Park Youth Camp. Her focus is always on the kids.”
Sturcke, a big part of Roselle Park being the second school in Union County to have varsity sports for girls – Scotch Plains was the first – summed up her 40 years as the girls’ tennis coach in this manner:
“There were three important ingredients that came together.
“First was that I ended up working with really nice girls and received a lot of support from their parents and the school administration and they also told me so, which was an added motivator to continue on.
“Second was that coaching tennis for 40 years didn’t feel like work or a job, there was no drudgery. I viewed it as a project and a challenge. Most players arrived with little or no background. There is no feeder program – we only have four courts in town – and not too many take lessons from pros. It was fun, challenging and satisfying all at the same time.
“Third was that some of the best memories of my life were right here with the tennis program. The championships were very exciting, but teaching a life-long sport that can be enjoyed was so worthwhile.
“We did well and won a lot and a lot of the girls along the way were able to learn the game of tennis and that’s something that they will always have.”
40 seasons – 1977-2016 –
as the girls’ tennis coach at Roselle Park:
Record: 504-269-2 (.652)
Group 1 state championship teams (2):
North 2, Group 1 state championship teams (3):
1993 (16-2) – lost to Haddonfield in Group 1 final
Central Jersey, Group 1 state championship teams (3):
Conference championships (16):
1981, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992,
1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2003, 2010, 2011
Winning seasons: 32
Under .500 seasons: 6
.500 seasons: 2 – 10-10-1 in 1982 and 9-9 in 2015
COACH OF THE YEAR AWARDS:
State (Star-Ledger): 1996
Union County (Star-Ledger): 2004, 2006
All-Area (Home News Tribune): 1997
National Federation Interscholastic Coaches Association: 1998
1986 Group 1 state championship team (25-1):
Beat Mahwah 3-2 in Group 1 final.
Lost only to Group 4 state champion West Orange 5-0 in the
season-ending Tournament of Champions.
First singles: Catherine Finizio, senior
Second singles: Lisa Dragon, senior
Third singles: Michele Finizio, sophomore
First doubles: Carolyn Hazelhurst, senior and Yolanda Romero, senior
Second doubles: Lisa Ferraro, junior and Patti Quinn, junior
1997 Group 1 state championship team (19-2):
Beat Montgomery 3-2 in Group 1 final.
Lost only to Scotch Plains 5-0 in the regular season and to
Group 3 state champion Millburn 5-0 in the
season-ending Tournament of Champions.
First singles: Nicole Tango, senior
Second singles: Jennifer Tango, senior
Third singles: Renee Bator, senior
First doubles: Carolynn Hess, senior and Nicole Fabbo, senior
Second doubles: Allison Stanko, senior and Jill Matthews, junior
2009 Central Jersey, Group 1 championship team (11-10):
First singles: Rebecca Vera, senior
Second singles: Monica Soliz, senior
Third singles: Emilie LaForge, junior
First doubles: Kathlene Bator, junior and Kristen Olson, senior
Second doubles: Emma McDonough, junior and Kelly Gugger, senior
SINGLES ALL 4 YEARS:
Catherine Finizio, Class of 1987, first 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986
Career record: 81-24 (.771)
Nicole Tango, Class of 1998, third 1994; first 1995, 1996, 1997
Career record: 64-31 (.674)
Erica Ollinick, Class of 2005, second 2001; first 2002, 2003, 2004
Career record: 74-20 (.787)
Rebecca Vera, Class of 2010, third 2006; first 2007, 2008, 2009
Career record: 66-30 (.688)
Benedictine Academy of Elizabeth girls’ basketball (4 years): 1965-69
1966 and 1969 teams won New Jersey Catholic Girls’ League championships
Sturcke was honored with the league’s Coach of the Year award in 1966.
At ROSELLE PARK:
Field hockey (1 year): 1970 – was first coach
Panthers finished with winning record of 7-1.
Girls’ basketball (5 years): 1971-1976 – was first coach
Girls’ tennis (40 years): 1977-2016 – was second coach