Eastern's Cuneo on cusp of national mark

Austyn Cuneo, a junior, has scored 190 goals for Eastern High. Her next goal will tie the national mark set by Florence's Lexi Smith last year.
Austyn Cuneo, a junior, has scored 190 goals for Eastern High. Her next goal will tie the national mark set by Florence's Lexi Smith last year. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 24, 2013

Austyn Cuneo's remarkable ability to score goals in field hockey is the product of her skill, size, strength and speed, as well as the serendipity of playing for the nation's most powerful program.

But there's another ingredient, as well.

"Since I was little, my coaches have been telling me I have the knack for scoring," Cuneo said. "Even when I wasn't playing forward, I would always be like, 'I want to score.' "

Cuneo, a junior at Eastern, is on the verge of becoming the greatest scorer in the history of scholastic field hockey in the United States.

Cuneo will enter Wednesday's game against Cherry Hill East with 190 career goals. The national record, set last season by Florence's Lexi Smith, is 191.

"Everybody could see she was going to break it," said Smith, now a freshman with eight goals this season for the College of New Jersey. "After she scored nearly 70 goals as a freshman, there was no way she wasn't going to break it.

"I'm just glad it's being broken by a player of her caliber. She's going to do great things in this sport."

Cuneo scored 69 goals as a freshman and 68 as a sophomore. She has 53 this season, tops in the nation through Monday.

Cuneo, who has committed to the University of North Carolina, is soft-spoken and determined to divert attention away from herself. She is quick to attribute her goal-scoring success to others, especially the teammates who get her the ball in prime position.

"She is a complete team player," Eastern coach Danyle Heilig said. "She worries about the team a lot more than she worries about her statistics."

Cuneo concedes that it will be "awesome" to set a national record. She said she is determined to "live in the moment" when it happens, likely in Wednesday's game.

But Cuneo also is eager to put the distraction of her climb to the top spot in the record book behind her and focus on helping Eastern to its 15th consecutive Group 4 state title, as well as another Tournament of Champions title.

"People are always asking me, 'How many more? How many do you need?' " Cuneo said. "It will be great when it happens, but then we can get back to just playing.

"It's always in the back of my mind, and people are always asking me about it. It's exciting, but I want my focus to be on the team."

Some of Cuneo's goal-scoring success comes from the strength of the Eastern program: The Vikings score a lot of goals and play a lot of games, winning nearly all of them - Eastern is 14-0-1 this season and 66-0-1 in Cuneo's three seasons.

Eastern regularly wins by scores such as 10-0. That creates a lot of opportunities for goals, and Cuneo takes full advantage of them.

Some of Cuneo's goal-scoring prowess is simply the product of her physical ability, according to Heilig. Cuneo is 5-foot-9, with the speed to separate from defenders and the stature and strength to outmuscle them in tight space in front of the cage.

"She has great power on her shots," Heilig said. "She has the ability to elevate her shots. She's very centered on her shots, always balanced. And she's a big, strong kid."

But Heilig said that Cuneo, like all prolific scorers in all sports, has "an intangible something" that separates her from other players.

Some of it, the coach said, is a vision to "see space on her shots."

But most of it is just a feel, a touch - a "knack" that Cuneo's coaches first noticed when she was in the second grade and first started playing the sport in an organized setting.

"She's worked at it, and she's tweaked her skills," Heilig said. "But she also has an intangible that some kids, no matter how hard they work, will never have."


National Leaders

The top five in U.S. field hockey history in career goals.

Rk.   Player   Last    School   No.   

      year      

1.   Lexi Smith   2012   Florence   191   

2.   Austyn Cuneo   2014   Eastern   *190   

3.   Sharon Landau   1985   Rye Neck (N.Y.)   174   

4 (tie)   Kelsey Mitchell   2009   Eastern   171   

4 (tie)   Tracey Fuchs   1983   Centereach (N.Y.)   171   

*- currently in junior season


Source: topofthecircle.com.


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/

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