S.J. Field Hockey: Cuneo sets national record


By Phil Anastasia

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For 99.9 percent of the high school athletes in America, setting a national record would be akin to reaching the top of a mountain.

For Austyn Cuneo, it's more like establishing a base camp.

The truly remarkable thing about Cuneo isn't that she set the national record for goals by a field hockey player by raising her career total to 193 in Eastern's 11-0 victory over Cherry Hill East on Wednesday.

It's that Cuneo became the sport's scoring queen a little more than halfway through her junior year.

"That's what is so amazing," Eastern coach Danyle Heilig said. "I can't believe she did this at this point in her career."

Cuneo said she "got chills" when she blasted a shot into the cage for her second goal of the game and 192nd of her career just seven minutes and 23 seconds into the Olympic Conference event on an overcast, chilly afternoon on Cherry Hill East's grass field.

Eastern players raced on the field with balloons, including three big silver ones in the shape of the numerals, '1' and '9' and '2.'

After celebrating with her teammates, Cuneo crossed the field and embraced her mother and father, Monica and Michael, as well as several other family members.

"It was crazy," Cuneo said. "I got chills down my back like somebody was scratching their nails down a blackboard.  Then my teammates came out in a wave and it hit me. It was awesome."

Cuneo, who scored another goal early in the second half, broke the record of 191 set last season by Florence's Lexi Smith, who is now a freshman at the College of New Jersey.

Cuneo said she was glad to put the chase behind her and focus her full attention on helping Eastern try to win its 15th consecutive Group 4 state title.

"It was in the back of my mind and now it's not even there anymore," Cuneo said. "Now we can just relax and play."

Heilig indicated that she was more anxious about the race to the record than her star forward, who handled the situation with aplomb.

"I cried tears of joy and tears of relief," Heilig said of her reaction to Cuneo's record.

Cuneo scored 69 goals as a freshman and 68 as a sophomore. The North Carolina recruit has 56 goals this season.

"She's a great player, a great person and most of all, a great friend," said Eastern senior Karlee Spirit, a Wake Forest recruit. "We're so happy for her."

Cuneo's drive to the top of the record book started when she was a second-grader and used to hang out behind the bench as her mother was the coach of the Winslow Middle School team.

"She used to hit the ball so hard, our girls used to say, 'Put Austyn in,'" Monica Cuneo said. "She always had that drive. She used to come home from school and beg us to go outside and hit with her."

Austyn Cuneo attended St. Joseph grammar school in Hammonton. A Winslow resident, she attends Eastern as a tuition student.

"I always wanted to play on this field for this team," Cuneo said during a recent Eastern practice. In Cuneo's two-plus seasons, the Vikings are 67-0-1, including a 15-0-1 record this year.

In the next few days, Cuneo likely will become the first high school player in American field hockey history to score 200 goals.

But here's the thing: With about 10 more games this season, and another 27 or so next season, Cuneo could finish her career with 300 goals, assuming she stays healthy.

To a veteran of the sport such as Heilig, that number is almost unfathomable.

"That's like something a great, great player can score in lacrosse," Heilig said. "But this is hockey. You're not in clear possession of the ball. That's unbelievable to me."

Cuneo was unphased by her approach to 192. She is just as casual about possibility of scoring 300.

"I don't think about that," Cuneo said. "I just play the way I play. The goals will come the way they are going to come."

-- Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com

-- Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter

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