VOORHEES – There were two presentations on the field following Eastern Regional High School’s dominating effort in the South Jersey Group 4 field hockey championship game Thursday afternoon.
The first, obviously, was for the championship plaque which the Vikings (23-0) earned by virtue of their 8-0 victory over Kingsway (19-1-1). It was the 20th straight sectional title for Eastern, which is not only the No. 1 team in the state, but also the No. 1 team in the country according to topofthecircle.com.
The first presentation brought the cheers and the requisite team picture with the championship plaque, but the second brought out the emotion when Eastern coach Danyle Heilig stepped forward to receive a plaque commemorating the 500th victory of her magnificent career. Her record now stands at 500-14-10 and counting.
“It’s crazy, it’s a really big number. It makes me feel really old,” Heilig replied when asked how it felt. “No, listen, it happens because of phenomenal kids and supportive parents and all those things put together that allows you to get something like this. I feel very blessed and even more blessed that it happened here. I’m glad that it happened here. This has been a big part of my life.”
“To win our 20th (straight) group championship and have Coach Heilig win her 500th game in one game is really special,” said junior Kara Heck who had a goal and two assists in the game.
Her sister, Ryleigh, one of two freshmen starters, who had three goals and two assists, agreed with her sister’s sentiment.
“To be a part of winning the championship and experiencing Coach Heilig getting her 500th win as a freshman is exciting,” Ryleigh said.
The game was played almost entirely in Kingsway’s half of the field and most of the action was in the circle in front of the Dragons’ cage. In fact, the Vikings would’ve score more if not for the outstanding effort by Kingsway goalie Maddie Ferry who made saves in every way imaginable – kick saves, blocker saves, diving saves and leaping saves. She was relentless but so was the Vikings attack and finally they broke through.
Eastern scored three times in the first half. Kylie Zielinski scored first with 17 minutes 45 seconds remaining in the half. She was followed by Ryleigh Heck, with four minutes left, and Amanda Middleman, with just over two minutes left, as Eastern led 3-0 at halftime, but the Vikings felt they still could've played better.
“In the first half we were a little off, we weren’t finishing,” Ryleigh Heck explained. “Coach Heilig said to go out, relax and start to play like we know how. In the second half, with her saying it and everybody else pushing, we started to play better.”
“We told them at halftime you’re going to have games where you’re only getting two corners or four corners or six corners, not the 18 we got in the first half today,” Heilig said. “We told them you have to take advantage of these opportunities not only in taking the shot but scoring the goal is crucial. This team takes that personally and they changed their mindset a little bit in the second half.”
Ryleigh Heck scored the next two goals in the first five minutes of the second half to give Eastern a 5-0 lead. Then it was Tara Somers followed by Riley Hudson and Kara Heck to round out the scoring.
“I’m proud of the way they played,” Heilig said. “I feel like we’re improving and growing at the right time.”
S.J. Group 4
Eastern 8, Kingsway 0
Kingsway 0 0 - 0
Eastern 3 5 – 8
E-Ryleigh Heck 3, Kylie Zielinski, Amanda Middleman, Tara Somers, Riley Hudson, Kara Heck. Shutout: Nina Santore and Lindsay Tripodo.