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Eustace's Barnes prepped to be coach

The Crusaders' new girls' basketball coach takes over during a challenging period.

Jackie Barnes has no illusions as she takes over as interim coach of the Bishop Eustace girls' basketball program.

An assistant the last two years, Barnes is filling in for Kat Burke, who will not coach this season after recently having her second child.

"I have no desire to take over the team [permanently] and have tremendous respect for what Kat has done," Barnes said. "She couldn't do it this year, and that is why I stepped in."

This could have been a difficult situation, but the two coaches worked together to make the transition much easier.

Both are 1999 graduates of Bishop Eustace and longtime friends. When Burke became the head coach before the 2008-2009 season, she asked Barnes to be one of her assistants. The team won the South Jersey Non-Public B title that year. But last season there were key injuries and the Crusaders slipped to 10-14.

Now Eustace expects to have another formidable team in one of the most difficult divisions in South Jersey, the Olympic National. Camden Catholic is the defending champion and the favorite, while newcomer Seneca is a viable threat, and Woodrow Wilson appears vastly improved.

Eustace, led by Inquirer preseason all-South Jersey choice Hope Phillips, a 6-foot-2 senior, could find itself in the mix.

The Crusaders open their season with Friday's 5:30 p.m. game at Pennsauken.

Barnes, who, in addition to playing basketball, was a soccer standout at Eustace when her maiden name was Mestichelli, said that she wouldn't have been able to step in had she not been an assistant the previous two years.

"Before I became an assistant I had no clue all the duties a head coach had," she said. "There are a zillion other things you have to take care of, and I have learned a lot watching Kat."

This setup was not something that came up suddenly. Barnes said she knew in the spring that she would be taking over, and Burke helped her greatly through the summer and fall.

Coaching is among the most underappreciated jobs. While many only see the coaches in action during game, few realize how difficult it is to do something as seemingly elementary as running a practice.

"You really have to plan every minute of practice and also have some flexibility built in," Barnes said. "I got to watch Kat do it for two years, and she would have a practice plan each day that we would go over before practice."

Barnes, who has a daughter of her own, realizes the challenge of raising a newborn, so she was more than happy to help her friend.

"It takes a lot of time and all your energy," she said about raising a young child. "I'm glad I am able to help, keep things going, and I look forward to handing the program back to her in good shape."