Former Viking stars helping Rutgers to hot start
When it comes to high school field hockey, one program not only in the state of New Jersey, but the entire nation comes to mind — Eastern Regional.
Over the 19-year tenure of head coach Danyle Heilig, she has compiled a stunning 463-12-6 record at Eastern, with countless state championships throughout that span. Between 1999 and 2005, the Vikings won 153 games straight, a New Jersey record that still stands today.
The team most recently had a 153 game unbeaten streak that was finally broken back in 2016. At the time of the loss, which were to out-of-state teams, the team had won 131 consecutive games against New Jersey opponents.
As the Rutgers field hockey team has started strong at 3-0 on the season, the Scarlet Knights roster has three players on it all from Eastern Regional. Junior forwards Alanna Gollotto, Nikki Santore and Austyn Cuneo played on the dominant Vikings team.
Gollotto and Cuneo are both currently tied for second in goals with 2 apiece for Rutgers so far in the early season.
“Playing on Eastern was an amazing experience that taught us to work hard and never settle,” Santore said. “Playing for Eastern also prepared us all for college field hockey, which made the transition easier.”
In her four seasons on the Eastern Regional team, Gollotto was fortunate enough to celebrate winning the state title all four years of high school. Her teams also won multiple Tournament of Champions, which pits the various group state title winners from New Jersey against one another.
Clearly, winning so much in high school instilled a standard and level of excellence which Gollotto was able to carry with her over to the Big Ten with the Knights.
“The standard was always high, and we worked extremely hard everyday at practice to prepare us for games,” Gollotto said. “So always playing hard and not giving anything less than 100 percent prepared us to come into Rutgers and give that same effort that we were used to giving.”
Possibly the most decorated Viking of all time, Cuneo transferred to Rutgers last season from North Carolina. While playing at Eastern Regional, she built a resume that speaks for itself.
Cuneo holds the national preps record for most goals (328), goals in a season (96 in 2013) and consecutive games with at least 1 goal (72) between 2012 and 2014. She is also a three-time high school first-team All-American, as well as being named New Jersey player of the year twice.
In her first season in Piscataway, Cuneo finished third on the team in points with 15, having scored 5 goals and adding another five assists in all 18 games. Clearly, college field hockey is drastically different from high school, where Cuneo dominated every single game.
“I think the hardest transition is the faster pace of the game and the way you have to transition into being a multi-positional player. That’s very different from high school field hockey where you have your own spot on the field that you own,” Cuneo said.
Last season, Cuneo played both offense and defense, something she wasn’t asked to do while playing in high school at Eastern.
This season, she has transitioned into a more comfortable role playing forward, which is the position she played in high school.
“You have to be willing to go into any position and know what you’re doing when you get put there without missing a beat,” Cuneo said. “The pace of the game is much faster, because the surface we play on is different than in high school, but it’s something I enjoy. I like the fast pace, physical game of college field hockey.”
Behind Gollotto and Cuneo’s strong play thus far, the Knights are 3-0 including a win over then-No.18 ranked St. Joseph’s. The win was good enough for them to pick up a top-25 ranking in the latest Penn Monto/National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA) Division I Coaches Poll, coming in at No. 23.
Winning is something that all three of the former Vikings are accustomed to, and they hope to continue their success on the Banks, where they look to help Rutgers reach its first winning season since 2008.
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