Lakeland's Sarsen named national high school coach of the year

Lakeland head field hockey coach, Sharon Sarsen, and Lakeland field hockey players in green uniforms hug each other after a victory.

Lakeland field hockey coach, Sharon Sarsen, celebrates with her players after a win.

Photo credit: Jonathan King

This article, written by Nancy Haggerty, orginally appeared in the The Journal News/lohud.com on January 22, 2019.

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Her team's remarkable streak ended this fall but Sharon Sarsen's remarkable season — and, moreover, remarkable career — gained some added recognition Tuesday as the Lakeland field hockey coach was named National High School Field Hockey Coach of the Year.

The award was given by the National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA), which has 5,000 dues-paying members but represents nearly 400,000 coaches in 22 sports nationally.

Sarsen, whose team's streak of winning nine straight state championships ended with a 1-0 state-final loss in November, has amassed 639 wins during 37 years at Lakeland.

Her 2018 squad went 22-1. Lakeland had not lost a game to a New York opponent since 2008.

The John Jay-Cross River (1978) and SUNY-Cortland (1982) grad was inducted in October into the Westchester County Sports Hall of Fame.

Sarsen is only the second coach from New York to win the award. The first, Garden City's Diane Chapman, won in 2006. Chapman's team ended Lakeland's title streak after falling to the Hornets multiple times in previous state playoffs.

"I'm kind of confused. I don't know where it came from. I appreciate they took the time to think so favorably of me," Sarsen said, noting she didn't know who'd nominated her.

She called past winners people who'd "left a mark on the national scene."

"I feel I'm in phenomenal company," she said.

NHSCA executive director Eric Hess characterized Lakeland as one of the country's top high school field hockey programs and Sarsen as a "fantastic coach."

He noted the award, although given for a specific year, extends to include a coach's body of work.

And, with Sarsen, that work involves more than coaching late summer through fall. The rest of the year there's club travel games and training, as well as clinics for kids as young as grammar school.

"Sharon's work ethic is second to none. The time she puts in is unrivaled by anyone. She puts in 12 months," five-year Lakeland School District athletic director Dan Belfi said, pointing in part to tournament play in Florida, California and elsewhere. "She just works tirelessly for the program to succeed."

Lakeland High athletic coordinator Rebecca DeSisto, who played for Sarsen for four years, including on her 2003 and 2006 state championship teams, calls Sarsen her mentor.

The Lakeland field hockey team poses for a team picture after their 2015 New York State Championship.

Sharon Sarsen and the Lakeland field hockey team pose for photos after their 2015 NYSPHSAA Championship.

Photo credit: Jonathan King

"I've learned so much in regards to physical education and coaching," DeSisto said. "I respect everything she does and all the hard work and extra time she puts into her girls. There isn't anyone as deserving of this award, as well as all the other awards she's been winning these last couple of years."

Debbi Walsh, who coaches John Jay-Cross River, the Section 1 Class B runner-up to Lakeland this fall, "I admire her. If there's anyone as a coach I look up to it's Sharon. What I love about her is I read a preseason article a couple of years ago where she said, 'It's all about the fundamentals.' She doesn't reinvent year after year. I tell kids, 'Keep it simple.' I'm not into tricks. Her girls have those fundamentals. To me, that's what has carried her success. And her dedication is above everyone else's. She's truly involved with these girls. You can tell they're really a family." 

John Savage, who has led Mamaroneck to three state championships, called the recognition "long overdue."

"She's one of the finest coaches in the U.S. on a high school level and probably could be on the college level," he said. "Her dedication to field hockey as a sport is non-paralleled of anyone I've met. She is truly deserving, not only for what she does for her kids, but for field hockey in the state. 

"She's able to instill the knowledge and instill the concept of the game and what time and dedication it takes to be successful," Savage continued. "Her style of coaching is very diplomatic. It's like a teacher teaching, rather than a coach coaching. ... She sets the bar very high with goals and objectives and allows her kids to get there. .... There's a yearly commitment with those kids to put in the time to be the best."

Chapman indicated she's looking forward to future playoff battles against Sarsen's team.

"She's an amazing coach and an amazing person," Chapman said. "Her record speaks for itself. Her passion and love for the game shows through what she does on a year-in, year-out basis. She consistently produces outstanding teams and outstanding players.".

While stepping down from coaching girls lacrosse this spring, Sarsen remains a physical education teacher and the athletic coordinator at Lakeland Copper-Beech Middle School, as well as head field hockey coach.

"The part that I enjoy the most is the day-to-day contact with student-athletes," Sarsen said. "We have phenomenal coaches, as well as kids who are just top-notch. I had a huge senior class this year of 10 kids. ... All 10 were inducted into the National Honor Society. It just shows the type of kid who plays field hockey. That's the part that keeps me going."

And Belfi's hope is Sarsen keeps going and going.

"She has a lifetime contract," he said.