The TCNJ (The College of New Jersey) Lions Women's Lacrosse Team is back in familiar territory, deep in the NCAA Division III Tournament on Sunday, May 15, in a 20-12 win over St. Mary's College of Maryland at the TCNJ Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex.
TCNJ jumped out to a 9-3 at the end of the first quarter. The Lions coasted the rest of the way outscoring St. Mary's 11-7. Leading goal scorer sophomore Ally Tober netted six goals. In comparison, second-leading goal scorer and team leader in points Jennifer La Rocca delivered five goals, and junior Anna Wright added four goals.
"All three of three players are very different which is great, that's what you want with variety and with different shots and movements," TCNJ Head Coach Sharon Pfluger explained.
This season, the Lions continued their dominant run, improving to 16-2. In NJAC (New Jersey Athletic Conference) play, the Lions went undefeated at 6-0, 10-2 at home, and unblemished on the road at 6-0. TCNJ hosted the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament for the second time and first time since 2018 when the team reached the Final Four.
"We're proud to be part of the NJAC, so competitive and many great athletes," Head Coach Sharon Pfluger noted. "Our commissioner (Terry Small) and Assistant Commissioner (Michelle Serabian) are phenomenal." When I go to the annual banquet at the end of the year, it's small, and they do such a phenomenal job, and I marvel at what all these athletes have accomplished.
Led by National Hall of Fame Head Coach Sharon Pfluger in her 36th season coaching the Lions team. Entering this season, Pfluger had amassed 541 victories, producing 10 NCAA Division III Championships and 11 NJAC Championships.
"I thought we played very well, we were challenged, and we adjusted to a variety of situations," Head Coach Sharon Pfluger noted. "I feel like we're in a position where we are peaking and it's really nice to see our young ladies develop and rise to a level in which they are playing right now."
"On paper, we seem young, with everything that went on with everybody dealing with different situations with COVID, and in 2020 we had nine experienced seniors. One of our goalies came back, which was great, and outside of Ally (Tober), everybody else moved on. Last year we were young, so we gained so much experience, and last year, one goal from tying it in the regional championship game and being at the Final Four."
"We improved leaps and bounds, and it was great to have the majority of the group back this year. It's exciting to host, and we were pleased about that. This team has great chemistry, and they work well together and are easygoing with each other and push each other."
Junior Anna Devlin has contributed to the offense with 36 goals and 16 assists, junior Jillian Westerby with 31 goals and ten assists, sophomore Natalie Berry with 23 goals, and junior Larissa Hatzold with 15 goals.
"I'm so proud of them; none of them don't care who is scoring," Head Coach Sharon Pfluger stated. "There's no selfishness on this team, they may not be in the top three of scoring, and they have been so critical in our games and extremely valuable to us. I have seen so much development in all of them and a level of confidence built over the last few years, and then comes the physical, mental, and emotional growth that I have seen."
TCNJ squares off against 16th-ranked SUNY Cortland (17-4), which has won 16 games in a row, on Saturday, May 21, at 11:30 am at the TCNJ Field Hockey and Lacrosse.
"It's a challenging regional bracket, we're playing Cortland, and we had played many times over these years," Head Coach Sharon Pfluger remarked. "We don't doubt anybody, and it will be a game in which we have to work hard and smart. At this point in this season, it should be when you get down to your 16, and it's anybody's championship. We have an opportunity to advance, but we must take it one day at a time and prepare to play our game."
When it comes to the expectations for the Lions program and putting on that jersey, head coach Sharon Pfluger points to the word respect. "Respect yourself, teammates, your program, your school, and your opponents. If you have all of that, you're going to work hard every day. Because you not only work hard for yourself, but an incredible support staff surrounds every player."
"That's a big thing for me, and if you give respect, you get respect. You respect everybody; then you work hard for everyone. Teamwork, commitment, and pride are critical to the program, and I want them to all feel those things should be because they are essential to me."
"They're sisters out there and work hard for each other. Pride is so critical, loyalty to each other and trusting each other and those things you need in your foundation of life. I think being on a team and being a part of a program and something bigger than all of us, and we all have those characteristics to succeed."
Aiding Head Coach Sharon Pfluger in maintaining consistency has been the work of assistant coaches Robin Selbst, Jackie Scullin, Bob Henderson, and Jaclyn Douglas.
"These coaches are outstanding; Robin is our full-time assistant and she's on round the clock with recruiting events and been with me as a full-time assistant for over 20 years now. Robin is the epitome of loyalty, and she went to school here and a phenomenal field hockey and softball player."
"She's a two-time first-team All-American in both of those sports, and she played lacrosse to stay another year, learned lacrosse, and became a fantastic lacrosse coach. She was a volunteer coach, a graduate assistant, and she's earned that position every day and completed 100% dedicated to our program."
"Jackie Scullin has been a tremendous part of our coaching staff for many years, her last playing season was 2004, and she played field hockey and lacrosse for us and was a fantastic defender. She went to eight Final Fours in her career and is amazing. She's an excellent teacher and a full-time Special Ed teacher in the Hope Valley school district. During her lunch hour, she watched the video, and our opponents were very knowledgeable about the sports and added to our programs."
"Jaclyn Douglas was coached by Jackie Scullin, Robin and me and she also played field hockey and lacrosse for us. She has been on our staff since she graduated and works with a club field hockey program as her full-time job." She is coaching field hockey and lacrosse for us."
"Bob Henderson is the best goalie coach around and gets all the credit with our goalies and coaches in clubs and he is fantastic. He is going to do a lot of recruiting events for us, he's a big teddy bear and an excellent teacher."
When it comes to cultivating a winning atmosphere, the TCNJ administration led by President Kathryn A. Foster and athletic director Dr. Amanda V. DeMartino has played critical roles.
Furthermore, there were significant upgrades to the field hockey and lacrosse facilities in 2021: a new field turf and digital scoreboard with team names and penalty countdown timers.
"We're happy with our administration; Dr. Foster supports our athletic program. She gets to the games when she can and knows the value of an education is a top priority. She understands that participating in an athletic program is a big part of the educational process."
"Amanda DiMartino has just done a wonderful job in our athletic department; there's a lot of coaches and programs to attend to, and she's been phenomenal. Liz Shatkus is our senior associate, just phenomenal and such a hard worker. Barry (Beal) has been great, and Miles (Smith Jr.) is our compliance officer."
For Head Coach Sharon Pfluger attention to detail and preparation heading into a game and on the field is essential. "You have to handle it on the field; I'm constantly thinking about our players. Do I need to go over something with this one or that one? It's nonstop, and your brain never stops, and that's where we are. The players, coaches, and whole team need to peak, so we take our responsibility upon ourselves and think fast."
"You have to be surrounded by people that are very loyal, you have to have fun with because it's a lot of hard work but it's about who surrounded you all the time and we're surrounded by outstanding student-athletes. What motivates me are the players, coaches and staff and TCNJ and a bucket full of emotions."
Most important to Head Coach Sharon Pfluger in her 36-year coaching journey in TCNJ Women's Lacrosse has been the support from her family. Making the ride even more remarkable is Pfluger's daughter Kileigh is on the team and in her junior year.
"I have three children, two boys, and Kileigh is my youngest," Head Coach Sharon Pfluger explained. "They grew up on the field and were at every game and traveled with me, and this is what they know, and this is a big piece of their childhood. Kileigh came to practice with me when she was younger and was a part of it."
"When she came to be a player, she went through a whole thing then we brought in for a visit and we handled it just like we would handle anybody else. She's very easy going, adapts well to the situation and she's not treated any differently on the field and I'm used to her being here so it's not a big deal."
"I would say the best thing is about whole situation is her best friends are kids that we recruited. Beyond that everything that goes on the field, the peace that she is surrounded by these wonderful young women that are on the team and we've had for years, and she can be a part of that environment."
"I used to stay up until three in the morning, and that's how I got my work done. I mastered it with one child, then two children, and the third word came along. My boys are really into it, and one of them is 27 years old and predicts the bracket and is really into it and grew up around this environment."
In closing, Head Coach Sharon Pfluger had this message for the TCNJ fan base and community of Ewing. "We're grateful to you and the township for all their support of us. I think they are many people interested in our athletic department. There are a lot of fans that support us even more than we even realize."
"Our biggest support besides our staff would be our parents and alumni. Friends of the kids that are on the field, the field hockey players are always there and the other women's and men's teams."