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Belleville's veteran softball coach Chris Cantarella is not thrilled with fact that Buccaneers will drop down to third division in Super Essex Conference in new alignment announced for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The Bucs will play in Colonial Division. (Photo by Todd Mundt-see tmundt.smugmug.com)

Bloomfield's longtime softball coach Bob Mayer will watch his Bengals move back up into the SEC's top division, the American, as the conference has realigned in sport for the next two spring seasons. (Photo by Doug Allen)

New Divisions Await 16 Teams
As SEC Realigns For '15 & '16
By Sean Reilly
For sidelinechatter.com

Essex County softball will have a different look for the 2015 and '16 seasons after the Super Essex Conference recently announced divisional alignments for the next scheduling cycle.

Of the 37 softball-playing schools in the conference, 16 have been shifted to different divisions, including a number of changes within the two top divisions, the American and Liberty.

The SEC determines divisional assignments every two years using a criteria that's based mostly on performance over recent seasons.

The most notable of the changes will involve three of the county's all-time premier programs - Caldwell, Bloomfield and Belleville. 

The American was an eight-team division the last two years, but will consist of seven teams going forward. Caldwell and West Orange will be dropping down to the Liberty Division, with Bloomfield moving from the Liberty up to the American.

Aside from Bloomfield, two other teams will be leaving the Liberty -- Belleville and Millburn will be dropping down to the Colonial Division. The additions of Caldwell and West Orange will also leave the Liberty with seven teams next spring.

Some of the coaches from that pack of teams have mixed emotions over the moves.

Belleville, for instance, stands to see its record improve significantly playing in the Colonial Division. But coach Chris Cantarella would much rather see his team challenged by a full Liberty schedule in addition to crossovers against a couple of American Division teams.

``I was taken by surprise and we (AD Tom D'Elia and I) discussed ways to keep us in the Liberty," Cantarella said. "I never thought we would drop down to the Colonial. Our record has not been the best over the last two years but we have been competitive and played some tight games throughout the season. We beat Bloomfield and Newark Academy and lost to Montclair Kimberley twice by a total of three runs, one time in the bottom of the eighth, so we were in games." 

Now Belleville will try to work some of those teams into its non-divisional schedule, while playing two games apiece against Arts, Bloomfield Tech, Irvington, Millburn, St. Vincent and Science Park in its Colonial Division schedule.   

"We will try to add some of the former Liberty teams and possibly some the American to our new schedule," Cantarella said.  "We already added Columbia and West Orange and MKA is built into the schedule. We have always tried to play a competitive non-conference schedule and we'll look to continue some of the relationships that we have had in the past, but obviously some will need to be canceled or dropped. The difficulty in scheduling is now an upper SEC team will have to drop one of their regular non-conference games to add us." 

Bloomfield, meanwhile, which has prior

American Division experience, will move back up after winning the the Liberty in 2013 and finishing behind co-champions Montclair Kimberley Academy and Newark Academy this past spring. 

"It's definitely a challenge," long-time Bloomfield coach Bob Mayer said. "Our program overall is not as deep as it used to be, but we have a group of kids that are working hard and will fight to be competitive in the top division. We only lost two starters, but they were key players, Victoria Ross and Briana LaFiura, our catcher and our shortstop). Our pitchers struggled in the lower division at times, but finished stronger, and seem to be getting stronger in the summer." 

Caldwell, which finished below .500 the last two years in the big division, will move down to the Liberty to face schools perhaps more in line with its status as a Group 2 program in a school that also offers lacrosse in the spring.

"We are looking forward to competing in the Liberty Division for the next two years with the goal of doing well enough to get back to the American," said Caldwell coach Mike Teshkoyan, whose last win of the 2014 season was the 600th of his career with the Chiefs.

 "We won the (Liberty) in 2012 and the way the Liberty is shaping up, it's going to be very competitive with a number of teams having a chance to win the title. That surely is something we will set our sights on again." 

Caldwell moved up to the American after winning the Liberty two years ago. But it finished 6-8 in the American in 2013 and 3-11 this spring. Caldwell was 4-0 the past two years over West Orange, which is also moving down to the Liberty.

"We are a little more suited to the Liberty at this point in time and I think it's fair that teams are relegated every two years based on their performance," Teshkoyan said. "I know a lot of coaches would like to see single a bigger division of the Liberty and American combined, where you would play everybody once. That way, you can compete against the top teams but still be able to play teams of your caliber."

Bloomfield's Mayer might be in favor of such a plan.

"To be honest, I am not sure the way our league is set up is the best, with playing only teams in your own small division twice," Mayer said. "But we will be working hard to compete and striving for success." 

Caldwell, meanwhile, won't be taking anything for granted, even though it will no longer have to play two games apiece against teams like Mount St. Dominic and Livingston, who've dominated both the American Division and Essex County Tournament in recent years. 

"I know we will continue our rivalry with West Essex and we will reach out to other strong teams to balance our schedule," Teshkoyan said. "I believe most top teams are not afraid of competition as it only makes you stronger at tournament time. You could see the results this year with Mount St. Dominic. They were able to schedule top teams and it certainly helped in upsetting Immaculate Heart in the states.

"Although we finished towards the bottom of our division this season, we knew we had to battle and stay tough for every game and that made us better," Teshkoyan said. "It enabled us to win most of our independent games as well as reach the ECT semis, where we went toe-to-toe with Mount St. Dominic and scored six runs against them, which was the most they allowed going down the stretch. That wouldn't have been possible without the the daily competition we faced. We are very proud of the SEC and how many great programs there are. It's got some of the best players and coaches in the state and it's been fun to knock heads and match wits with the very best." 

SUPER ESSEX CONFERENCE SOFTBALL ALIGNMENT FOR 2015 AND '16

AMERICAN DIVISION 

2013 champion: Livingston

2014 champion: Mount St. Dominic

 

Bloomfield (moves from Liberty Division)

Cedar Grove

Livingston

Montclair

Mount St. Dominic

Nutley

West Essex 

 

LIBERTY DIVISION 

2013 champion: Bloomfield

2014 champions: Newark Academy and Montclair Kimberley Academy 

 

Caldwell  (moves from American Division)

Columbia

Glen Ridge

Montclair Kimberley

Newark Academy

Verona

West Orange  (moves from American Division)

 

COLONIAL DIVISION

2013 champion: Bloomfield Tech

2014 champion: Bloomfield Tech 

 

Arts 

Belleville (moves from Liberty Division)

Bloomfield Tech

Irvington (moves from Independence Division)

Millburn  (moves from Liberty Division)

St. Vincent

Science Park

University (moves from Independence Division)

 

 

INDEPENDENCE DIVISION

2013 champion: Irvington

2014 champion: Irvington 

 

East Orange Campus (moves from Colonial Division)

East Side (moves from Colonial Division)

Immaculate (moves from Freedom Division)

North 13th Street Tech (moves from Freedom Division)

Orange

Shabazz (moves from Freedom Division)

Technology

Weequahic 

 

FREEDOM DIVISION

2013 champion: North 13th Street Tech

2014 champion: North 13th Street Tech

 

Barringer (moves from Colonial Division)

Central  (moves from Independence Division)

Christ the King

Golda Och (moves from Independence Division)

Newark Tech

Newark Vocational (moves from Independence Division)

West Side 

 

Follow Sean Reilly on Twitter @SeanReillyHS


Caldwell's veteran coach Mike Teshkoyan looks forward to challenge of earning a move back up to the SEC American if the Chiefs can play well in the Liberty where they will be for the next two seasons under brand new alignment for 2015-2016. (Photo by Bill Allen-njsportaction.net)

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