Eastern's scoring machine enters final year

Austyn Cuneo owns all the field hockey scoring records. Now she wants to broaden her game and help bring the younger Vikings players along. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Austyn Cuneo owns all the field hockey scoring records. Now she wants to broaden her game and help bring the younger Vikings players along. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 01, 2014

One goal is never enough for Austyn Cuneo.

But then, apparently, neither are 233.

"Every goal is a thrill," said Cuneo, who is set to begin her senior year at Eastern High School. "Whether you score one goal or 200, it's always a scoring thrill. And you always want to score more."

Cuneo is the greatest goal-scorer in the history of scholastic field hockey. She will enter her final season with 233 goals, which means she already has eclipsed the old record by 42 goals.

She scored 69 as a freshman, 68 as a sophomore, and 96 - another national record - as a junior. If she has an average scoring season [for her] as a senior, she will zoom past 300 goals, an unfathomable total in the sport.

That's like a baseball player finishing his high school career with 300 hits. Or a basketball player scoring 5,000 career points.

"It would be pretty cool," Cuneo said of scoring 300 goals.

As much as Cuneo likes to score goals, she has worked hard to develop other aspects of her game.

A North Carolina recruit and member of the USA Field Hockey under-19 national team, Cuneo plans to become more versatile this season, even as she tries to lead Eastern to its 16th consecutive Group 4 state title and another Tournament of Champions crown.

"I played a little defense today," Cuneo said after a recent scrimmage at Haddonfield. "I know I'm a forward, but I might not be a forward for the USA team or at North Carolina.

"I want to develop that versatility to be able to play any position."

Eastern coach Danyle Heilig, who has built one of the most dominant programs in the country in any sport, said Cuneo still has a "hunger" to improve, despite the accomplishments of her first three seasons.

"She works so hard," Heilig said. "She stays hungry. She wants to get better, wants to improve aspects of her game. She wants to be more dangerous, more versatile."

Heilig said one "challenge" for Cuneo this season will be to get her teammates more involved in scoring plays.

"She has to help other kids develop the confidence to score," Heilig said. "She won't be here next year, and other players are going to have to step up. She understands that's part of her role this season."

Cuneo said she looks forward to getting her teammates more involved in the offense.

"I don't want them to think, 'Oh, pass it to Austyn. She'll score,' " Cuneo said. "They can score. They need to develop that confidence. I know they can do it."

Mentoring younger players has become something of a passion for Cuneo.

Although she was involved with several USA Field Hockey events and competitions this summer, she spent a lot of time working with grammar-school players in one-on-one training sessions.

"That was so much fun," Cuneo said. "My mom [Monica] wanted to know if I have coaching in my blood. Maybe I do. I love working with the younger players, showing them things I've learned."

Heilig and her players are renowned for their focus and commitment. That's one reason the Vikings have won all those titles in a row.

Cuneo has never played in a losing game in high school. The Vikings were 78-0-1 in her first three seasons, with three Group 4 state titles and two Tournament of Champions crowns. (The T of C was canceled in 2012 because of Hurricane Sandy.)

Cuneo said getting the "Sweet 16" - the Vikings' 16th straight state title - is the focus of her senior season.

But Heiling said it's also important for a player such as Cuneo to "enjoy" her senior season.

Cuneo feels the same way. She knows she has a lot of hockey ahead of her: in college, with the national team, perhaps someday as an Olympian.

But this will be her last season with her high school team.

"I'll never play with these girls again," Cuneo said. "It's a long season, and I want to make it last. I want to make the most of it."

Cuneo said she will play as a senior with a "more relaxed" attitude since she set those scoring records as a junior.

"It's kind of a relief," Cuneo said. "Last year, there was so much focus on those records, a lot of pressure. But now that I've done it, I can just play freely, and whatever happens, happens."

And if the season includes another goal or 90, well, each one will be a thrill.


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

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