Eastern High School field hockey coach Danyle Heilig, who built one of the most accomplished programs in any sport in New Jersey history, has announced her retirement.
Heilig, whose teams won 21 consecutive Group 4 state titles from 1999 through 2019, made public her decision to step away from the team during the Vikings’ annual postseason banquet on Monday night.
"It’s time,” Heilig said during a telephone interview last week. “It’s time to be home. It’s time to be mom. It’s time to do a lot of the things I haven’t been able to do for the last 21 years.”
Heilig’s record at Eastern almost defies belief. In her 21 seasons, the Vikings won a Group 4 state title every year and compiled an overall mark of 512-14-6.
“What I’m most proud of is that I played a role, even if it was a small role, in helping to mold these young women at such an important part of their lives,” Heilig said. “I see them now, they come back, and I see how successful they are in business, as coaches, as wives and mothers.
“I only hope that the lessons that they learned playing field hockey for Eastern played some small part in that.”
Heilig stands barely 5-foot-2, but she is a towering figure in the sport. Her team once won 153 games in a row. The Vikings were ranked No. 1 in the nation at the end of nine seasons.
Heilig’s teams were renowned for their focus and competitive fire. She was a demanding coach who brought out the best in her players, more than 100 of whom played the sport at the NCAA Division I level.
Among Heilig’s most famous players were the six Dawson sisters, the Walls triplets and the remarkably prolific Austyn Cuneo, a 2015 Eastern graduate who finished her career with a national record of 328 goals — better than 100 more than the previous mark.
Heilig, a Moorestown graduate who played at James Madison, also coached one season at Haddon Heights in 1998, going 14-2-4 with a Colonial Conference title. Her final overall record is 526-16-10.
Heilig said she seriously considered retirement after the 2018 season, when Eastern won its 20th straight state title, finished ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps and the coach captured her 500th career victory.
“That felt like the perfect time — 20 state titles, 500 wins, No. 1 in the nation,” Heilig said. “I was really leaning toward going out after that season.”
Heilig said her husband, Chris, a school administrator, convinced her to stay one final season with the secret knowledge that it would be her last.
“I took his advice,” Heilig said. “He said, ‘Do one more year knowing it will be your last year and enjoying it from that perspective.’
“So I tried to embrace one last preseason, one last regular season, one last playoff run.”
Heilig said no one outside of her family was aware during the 2019 season that she planned to step away. The Vikings went 23-2 and won the Group 4 state title. Both of the team’s losses were to North Jersey non-public power Oak Knoll, once in the regular season and again in the Tournament of Champions final.
“I think I was more emotional last season, but I don’t know if anybody noticed it or realized it,” Heilig said.
Heilig said she was struck by the magnitude of the moment after the Vikings’ last game.
“I remember taking a deep breath and just standing there and thinking before I walked across the field to talk to them,” Heilig said of her players. “I remember thinking, ’This is my last time.’”
Heilig and her husband are the parents of three children, 13-year-old twin boys and an 8-year-old girl. She said she is determined to spend more time with her children, all of whom are actively involved in sports.