Eastern breaks the mold

Eastern's field hockey team will become the first high school program to be honored by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Eastern's field hockey team will become the first high school program to be honored by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: January 27, 2014

The Philadelphia Sports Writers Association will hold its 110th banquet on Monday at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, and for the first time, a high school team will be given a special achievement award.

And while the wait has taken more than a century, the association couldn't have selected a more accomplished program.

The honored team will be the field hockey squad from Eastern.

You might have heard about the Vikings over the last decade and a half, when they have become not only a dominant New Jersey team but a national power, as well.

In coach Danyle Heilig's 15 seasons, the Vikings have won 15 consecutive state Group 4 titles, an amazing run of dominance.

The previous national record for consecutive state field hockey titles was 10. In addition, Eastern also has won five of the seven Tournament of Champions titles the NJSIAA has awarded.

This past season, the Vikings were 26-0-1 and capped the season with a 3-0 win over Oak Knoll in the T of C final. Eastern was named the No. 1 team in the nation by TopoftheCircle.com.

Eastern's Austyn Cuneo set a national record with 233 career goals. A three-time Inquirer South Jersey player of the year, Cuneo still has a year left. In addition, this past season Eastern started four freshmen on the varsity.

So there's a pretty fair chance that the staggering success will continue.

And now, being honored by such a prestigious organization adds to the long list of accomplishments for the Vikings.

"My first reaction is incredible excitement," Heilig said about being honored at the banquet. "For this team and for the sport of field hockey and for it to be a female team that is the first honored is amazing."

Keep in mind that the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association has honored some of the most accomplished athletes in sports: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Muhammad Ali, Julius Erving, Bernie Parent, and others.

And now joining them is Eastern's field hockey team.

According to Heilig, more than 50 players, parents, and fans of the program will attend the banquet. (For information on tickets, visit pswa.org.)

One question: After all these years, what persuaded the organization to honor a high school team?

PSWA secretary Larry Litwin said the association had gone with the tradition of honoring college and pro athletes. As with many organizations, traditions are difficult to break.

Litwin said that sportscaster Joe Pellegrino, a member of the PSWA board, suggested that Eastern be honored.

It wasn't difficult to make a case on the Vikings' behalf, with their rich resumé.

A number of years ago, the association honored Heilig for her coaching achievements, but Eastern is the first high school team to be cited.

"I have tried to tell our girls what a special honor this is, especially to be the first team," Heilig said.

For one night, Eastern will be mentioned with some of the best present and past college and pro athletes not only from Philadelphia but also nationwide.

For instance, the team of the year being honored will be the Boston Red Sox. Also, the 1974 Stanley Cup champion Flyers will be recognized.

And Eastern will have its deserved position among the elite. This program has reached unprecedented heights, and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association couldn't have chosen a better program to be a pioneer award winner.



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