By Peter Fiorilla
Numerous NCAA championships and hundreds of student athletes have been attracted to the College’s lacrosse and field hockey teams over the years, and there has always been one constant at the center, as sure as gravity – longtime head coach and College alumna Sharon Pfluger, who was nominated for the New Jersey Hall of Fame’s class of 2014 this summer.
For Pfluger, who has been inducted into the United States Lacrosse and TCNJ Halls of Fame, the latest nomination serves as yet another testament to the quality in the people surrounding her.
“I feel that I’m the representative for our programs, so I am happy for everyone who has ever played for us and anyone who has ever coached for us,” Pfluger said. “I’m the figure – they have to have somebody, right? – and I think it’s an honor for everyone.”
And since Pfluger returned to coach for her alma mater in 1985, there have been more than enough honors to pass around.
Pfluger’s teams have garnered 220 All-American nominations in that time, blazing their way to a combined 951-126-6 record and 19 Division III championships.
They’ve done it while staying true to the programs’ original identity: having serious competitive backbone but also a family-like mentality, a special part of the program Pfluger fostered from the early days.
“I’d come into the office, and they’d get to know me on a different level,” Pfluger said. “That’s what makes it great. It’s wonderful, as a coach, to have a positive impact on young adults. It’s a great feeling. But when we’re all working together on something as a family, that’s just the icing on the cake.”
For Pfluger, it’s important that each wave of Lions brings in more athletes with character or people who can form sisterly bonds with their teammates.
“That (bond) never goes away. Once they have it, it never goes away,” Pfluger said. “They’re going to have the memories of what they did on the field forever. And that’s one thing that nothing or no one can take away from them.”
Even with a tradition of great athletes, though, Pfluger had her work cut out for her when she first came to coach at the the College.
It took a workaholic’s energy to keep two programs running almost year-round — recruiting, practicing, scouting, competing in games and fulfilling the other roles that come with the job.
“I pretty much spent my 20s in my office or on the field,” Pfluger said. “I can’t tell you one TV program there was … because that’s what I needed to do to get the job done and that’s what I wanted to do. Two very strong programs and I was honored to take them over.”
The programs were already familiar and prestigious. Pfluger had won national titles with the College as a student athlete before graduating in 1982, along the way making a neat bit of history.
After the NCAA began admitting women’s teams in 1981, Pfluger was a member of the lacrosse side that become the first-ever women’s team to win a NCAA championship. The Division I final was played the next day.
And competing as an athlete, under College coach Melissa Magee and in high school with College alumna Betty West, was ultimately the inspirational drive Pfluger needed to get into coaching.
“There was a nucleus of us who was with (West) year-round, and she was great,” Pfluger said. “She guided people well. She was very professional. So that was when I thought — as I progressed through high school — ‘I think I want to do this.’”
For several years after Pfluger graduated from the College, she worked in various other coaching jobs around the state after teaching during the day.
But when Magee left the College, creating a vacancy, Pfluger earned her dream job — and it didn’t take long to get back to national titles, albeit under different circumstances.
“Winning as a coach, knowing that you’re responsible for everything out there, and seeing the players so happy — I feel like I got a taste of being a parent well before I was a parent,” Pfluger said. “Both ways, it was great. It’s hard to explain how terrific that feeling was, to win a national championship and to have it all come together.”
It’s been an unbroken chain of winning since, with the most recent title being a lacrosse championship in 2011.
But while Pfluger has been the nucleus of the programs, she knows the people around her — her family — have been responsible for the journey she’s been on.
“It’s about all of us that have been involved in it, and I’m happy to be the guide for everybody,” Pfluger said. “But I really, truly give the credit to my assistant coaches and our student athletes. They make it, and I’m just really lucky to be a part of it.”