Welcome to the family

Assistant head coach Gina Carey-Smith fires shots at Kelsey Zinck to warm her up before each game and she can’t help but see a little bit of herself in the goalkeeper.

Zinck not only guards the net for the No. 5-ranked Lions (12-3), like Carey-Smith did back in the early 1990s, but she also came to the College from a Division I program. Carey-Smith, who transferred in from Ohio State University, has been Zinck’s mentor this season as the sophomore transitions to the College after playing last season at the University of Connecticut.

“As her coach, I think that she has made a remarkable adjustment,” Carey-Smith said. “I know that playing at the (Division I) level and then coming in here and having to fight for a starting position was very difficult, but Kelsey is the type of kid who challenges herself.”

Bringing in transfer students is something that head coach Sharon Pfluger has never shied away from during her 26 years as the head honcho of the Lions lacrosse program. And it’s a practice that has helped her solidify her team over the last two years as the Lions welcomed Zinck (Burke, V.A.) and junior attacker Trenna Hill (Syracuse, N.Y.) this season as well as junior attacker Alex Spark (Harvey Cedars, N.J.) and sophomore defender Claire Engelman (Colts Neck, N.J.) in 2011.

Spark has adjusted well as a transfer. (Courtesy of Sports Information Desk)

Although the girls haven’t been with the program as long as some of the others, Pfluger feels that they have been able to slide right in.

“The girls welcomed them with open arms like they would with anybody,” Pfluger said. “We get a lot of transfers, it’s not uncommon, and the girls like that. They like to see girls who looked us up, researched us and wanted to become part of us, a part of something special.”

Carey-Smith reiterated that thought, but also admitted that Pfluger has been a major influence during that process.

“(Pfluger) encourages the kids to welcome new people in, so it comes from the top,” Carey-Smith said. “Coach is very adamant of making everyone feel like a part of this, regardless if you are the superstar, you’re a transfer or you don’t play at all. Everybody has a role on the team and everyone has equal importance.”

They all have different stories and backgrounds, but the College’s tradition was ultimately the decisive factor for all four of the Lions’ recent transfers.

“Coach Pfluger is an amazing woman,” Zinck said. “She has the best interest of all of her players in mind and really just wants to help us achieve anything we dream of. The program has earned respect throughout decades of competing and winning, with many great players that I now get to follow in the footsteps of. I am reminded everyday of how lucky I am to be a part of the history of TCNJ lacrosse.”

Hill, similar to Zinck, transferred in after playing at the Division I level at Syracuse University. It wasn’t an easy decision for the junior attacker, with two of her cousins winning National Championships for the Orangemen’s men’s lacrosse team, but one she ultimately had to make.

“It was definitely a tough decision considering it was my childhood dream to attend (Syracuse),” Hill said. “I didn’t apply to anywhere else when applying for colleges as a high school senior, but the decision just needed to be made.”

“It definitely has its pros and cons coming from a (Division I) program,” Hill confessed. “I will admit I was a bit frustrated at first, but everything that I felt Syracuse was lacking I found at TCNJ.”

Hill’s transfer alongside the growth of Spark, who transferred in after spending a year on the crew team at Loyola (MD) University in 2010, has certainly helped the Lions attack this season as they’ve had to replace 2011 graduate and the College’s all-time career goals leader, Ali Jaeger. Hill is third on the team with 34 goals in 13 games, while Spark leads the Lions with 55 goals scored.

“Alex and Trenna have made a tremendous impact to our attack this year, which definitely helps after losing Ali,” said senior midfielder Leigh Mitchell. “They both have produced very consistently for us throughout the season and they have become very accustomed to our attack.”

The mix of new and old players leads to success for the Lions. (Lisa Nitzache / Staff Photographer)

On the defensive end, Zinck has bought into the Lions’ philosophy and begun to become more of a leader in the net, according to Carey-Smith. In front of her, Engelman, who began her college career at Salisbury University, used her length to frustrate opposing attackers.

Mitchell, who works with the offensive and defensive units, praised the manner in which all four girls have been able to integrate themselves into the program.

“We are a very close team and are very welcoming to new comers and they seemed to take no time to adapt and fit right in,” Mitchell said. “They definitely have established themselves as Lions on and off the field.”

The quartet of transfers will become even bigger factors once the regular season ends and although they’re just a slice of the overall pie that is the College’s lacrosse, Mitchell is eager to take the field with them come playoff time.

“I think all of them will make a huge impact in postseason,” Mitchell said. “They have already been creating names for themselves throughout the season and I can’t wait to see what our team does throughout playoffs.”