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Field Hockey Player of the Year: Eastern freshman Austyn Cuneo

Throughout the field hockey season, a one-word question seemed to follow Eastern freshman Austyn Cuneo: How?

Throughout the field hockey season, a one-word question seemed to follow Eastern freshman Austyn Cuneo: How?

There's too much on the forward's resumé that shouldn't be accomplished by a freshman.

Cuneo tied the New Jersey single-season field hockey scoring record, scored the winning goal in the Group 4 state final, and completely distinguished herself from any other freshman ever to take the field for the nation's most storied high school field hockey program.

How? How did she do it? What does she have that no one else does?

There's plenty to point to, but listen to Cuneo, well-spoken and articulate beyond her years, and you might find that the answer is simple.

"Coming into this season, there was definitely something there where I knew that I wanted to help carry out the tradition of Eastern field hockey. We had a great team, and I wanted to help add our own chapter to the history books," Cuneo said.

"But you can't be nervous about it and you can't be scared when you play - because if you play scared, then you don't play your best game."

Eastern field hockey coach Danyle Heilig watched Cuneo, The Inquirer's player of the year, grow up playing field hockey in Heilig's annual summer camp. Heilig knew Cuneo was a special talent, but she didn't expect a state-record 69 goals from Cuneo in her freshman year.

So what did Heilig overlook? As Cuneo said, she simply wasn't afraid to go after the record. It might be her most important attribute - it's certainly one that became increasingly clear to anyone who saw her play this season.

"If you look at the games in which she scored goals, they were against quality opponents," Heilig said. "And I think that says a lot about her. And these were opponents that were out to mark her - they were aware of her, and they were out to stop her from scoring. That alone says so much about Austyn, especially as a 14-year-old freshman."

Heilig, who can't seem to praise her star player enough, went on to say:

"I think she actually enjoys it when people try to get physical with her or really try to deny her the ball. That will only make her work harder; she's that type of athlete. She has that little bit of an edge, that feeling where she's just not going to be denied."

Cuneo echoed her coach:

"I do like challenges. It makes me feel like I'm working hard as a player. It makes me feel like I have that drive to win and drive to score. I like the competition."

Of course, it helps to have all the physical attributes necessary to match that drive to score. At 5-foot-9, Cuneo is big, physical, and, according to Heilig, "deceptively fast."

"I don't think people realize just how fast she is," Heilig said.

Cuneo has the type of mental and physical comfort level with the sport that often doesn't come until a player reaches college.

But, perhaps more important, even after leading her team to a 27-0 record and a Tournament of Champions title and tying the state scoring record, Cuneo is far from content.

"I definitely want to break that scoring record," Cuneo said. "It's a little frustrating when you tie it and you really wanted to break it."