The journey back to being the unquestioned best team in the state, a place Eastern has resided for a majority of the last decade, was led by the Boston College-bound Heck, who showed she was more than just a scorer in her third varsity season with the Vikings
Eastern Regional High School’s field hockey team, considered the top team in the country more often than not in the last two decades, was churning out another stellar season when coach Danyle Heilig decided to make a switch.
The cliche says you shouldn’t fix something that isn’t broken, and since the Vikings were undefeated three quarters through the 2018 season, perhaps it was a curious time to move her best player to a new position. But Heilig, who has amassed 490 wins and 20 state championships in 20 seasons at Eastern, always sees the bigger picture.
And she also knows the talent on her team better than anyone else.
Junior Kara Heck, who scored 114 goals and collected 48 assists in her first two high school seasons, moved from forward to center midfield, flipping with her freshman sister, Ryleigh.
“I think it made us stronger,” Heilig said. “(Kara’s) passing ability is just very strong. I think (the switch) ups her game. She’s matured, just like everyone grows during their high school career. … Kara has the ability to read the opposition really well. She sees passes most kids don’t see, reads defenders like most kids can’t. She has that innate feel for the opposing team that’s just hard to teach. And when things are on the line and there’s a chance to compete, Kara is there.”
It’s that tenacity on the field, along with her sheer talent and production, that made Heck the choice for the 2018 Sun Newspapers Field Hockey Player of the Year.
Heck, who will play at Boston College after she graduates in 2020, was the glue that kept the state’s best team together in another banner year for Eastern. When Heck entered high school a little more than two years ago, the Vikings had won 18 straight Group 4 state titles and seven of the nine Tournament of Champions trophies since the competition began in 2006.
But Eastern uncharacteristically lost in the T of C finals in consecutive seasons in Heck’s first two seasons, to West Essex and Oak Knoll, respectively. In 2018, Eastern whupped West Essex 10–0 in the T of C semifinals before beating Oak Knoll 3–1 in the finals to bring the trophy back to Voorhees for the first time since 2015.
“Throughout the whole season the whole team had the same goals, to go undefeated, to win sections and states and move on to the T of C,” Heck said. “I think that together as a team we put everything together, which made our goals successful.”
Heck is driven toward that success. She comes from an athletic family: her father, Roy, played basketball at Stockton University; her mom, Kerry, played field hockey and lacrosse at James Madison University; her brother, Andrew, is Eastern’s quarterback; and her younger sister, Ryleigh, is the only Eastern player who scored more goals than her this fall.
It’s that competitive blood that fuels her every time the whistle blows, according to Heilig.
“Kara is ulta competitive, almost in a crazy way. She’s just very, very competitive. You should see her in practice, you wouldn’t recognize her,” Heilig joked. “But as soon as you make it competitive you notice her instantly because she just hates to lose.”
That mentality coupled with her physical talent makes Heck the perfect player to lead Eastern’s program back to the top of New Jersey’s field hockey hierarchy this fall.
It’s not that the Vikings really slipped — they still won state titles in the state’s biggest group, they still took on all comers, in and out of state, during the regular season. But to collect the T of C trophy, and have the opportunity to defend it as a senior, is pretty much how Heck would have drawn up the season if she had the chance to write the script back in August.
“I know girls on my team and even maybe on other teams look up to me and I have to be a model for them,” she said. “But I think it’s more that we put everything together, and that made us successful. … Eastern has been very successful for 20 years now. I think to be a part of it is something special. It’s bigger than any (one person), it’s been going on longer than I’ve been alive. So it’s pretty special.”