Sharon Pfluger: NJ’s Winningest Collegiate Coach

TCNJ's field hockey and lacrosse coach has won nearly 900 games.

TCNJ field hockey coach Sharon Pfluger, center, with incoming freshmen Lexi Smith, left, and Ellie O’Neill.
Photo: Christopher Lane

The passage of time is hitting home for Sharon Pfluger. After 29 years coaching field hockey and lacrosse at the College of New Jersey in Ewing, this fall for the first time, Pfluger has players whose mothers she coached during their years at TCNJ.

“This will be a special year,” says the 52-year-old Pfluger, reflecting on the upcoming field hockey season, which begins August 31 against Stevens Institute of Technology.

Actually, almost every year is special for Pfluger. Between the two sports, she has won nearly 900 games and 19 NCAA Division III championships, making her New Jersey’s all-time most successful collegiate coach. Her humanistic coaching style is an antidote to the high-intensity drama of some other, more prestigious programs.
“This has been my home, and the girls are an extension of my family,” says Pfluger, the mother of three. “They are loyal to each other, low-maintenance kids. They know that we keep it simple: work hard, respect each other and reach out to each other.”

This year’s field hockey squad includes incoming freshmen Lexi Smith and Ellie O’Neill. Both of their moms played for Pfluger in the 1980s. (Lexi’s mom, Gina Smith, has been the Florence High School head field hockey coach for 15 years; Ellie’s mother, Nancy O’Neill, is the former lacrosse coach at Rutgers-Camden and the current basketball coach at Collingswood High School.)

Pfluger—who grew up in Pompton Lakes and played field hockey and lacrosse at TCNJ when it was called Trenton State College—has gotten Division I offers over the years, but was never tempted to leave her alma mater. “It was always for me, Well, I could never leave before these kids left. Or, how could I leave my coaching staff?” she says. She adds that her own children—Augie, an incoming freshman at TCNJ; Jonah, an aspiring musician and a junior at Hopewell Valley High School; and 12-year-old Kileigh—have grown attached to the program, too. The latter, she says, is the real athlete in the family.

“I at least have to hold on until she—who knows—might play here,” says Pfluger. “Wouldn’t that be the capper?”

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