‘One day at a time’

Field hockey coach Alexandra Marshall takes reins at Eastern

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun: Following the retirement of coach Danyle Heilig at the conclusion of last season, Eastern Regional High School named Alexandra Marshall its new field hockey coach. Marshall, pictured in the middle alongside this year’s seniors, served as an assistant coach under Heilig for the past five seasons.

At least new Eastern Regional High School field hockey coach Alexandra Marshall can put aside the pressure of extending the team’s national record of 21 consecutive state championships in her first year of succeeding a legend.

There are no state championships in the first high school season since the COVID-19 pandemic started. But expectations are for  Marshall to maintain the high level of success former Eastern girls coach Danyle Heilig accomplished in more than two decades.

“I couldn’t have been luckier to be an assistant coach under (coach Heilig) for the past five years,” said Marshall. “I’ve learned so much about field hockey and coaching styles in general through her. I think the consistency that she demanded is something that we still see in the girls that they’ve been working at during the summer sessions. “The girls know there are high expectations every day they walk on the field,” she added, “and we are working toward keeping them high moving forward.”

Over the past 21 seasons, the team went 512-14-6 with Heilig at the helm, taking home the Group 4 state title every year from 1999 to 2019. The team went a remarkable 153 consecutive games without a loss at one point, while finishing the season as the number one team in the nation nine times over two decades.

But a new chapter has opened in the book of Eastern Regional field hockey. While Heilig left a dominant and jaw-dropping record in high-school sports history, the show must go on.

On top of having been an assistant coach in the program for the past five years, Marshall has also served as an assistant coach with Eastern’s lacrosse team over the same amount of time. She played both field hockey and lacrosse at The College of New Jersey after graduation from Haddonfield Memorial High School.   

While being a first-year head coach can be rough, taking the reins for the first time in the wake of a pandemic may be more difficult.  Regardless, Marshall said support from the administration, trainers, parents and the team have made getting ready for the upcoming season relatively easy.

“There’s definitely been some adjustments and things that the girls might not have been used to, but I can’t stress enough how helpful the administration and athletic director have been in making sure we know any and all updates from the NJSIAA … so that we can follow all the guidelines for practices,” Marshall noted.

“Then I just have to make sure we do the work on the field.”

While summer came with intense discussion about the future of high school sports in the state amid COVID, some semblance of a season took shape. Marshall said the girls were able to focus on practicing and preparing for a potential season.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time,” Marshall said. “I tell the girls all the time, we’re here for today and that’s kind of how we got through the summer season. Obviously that will be different in the fall,  when we’re closer to the regular season schedule, but for the past month-and-a-half, we’ve been focused on getting through this drill, through this practice, and then we’ll focus on tomorrow when it comes, because there’s been so many uncertainties throughout this.

“That’s kind of been our motto throughout the summer — one day at a time,” added Marshall.

Although the longstanding goal for teams across New Jersey – a state championship season – isn’t in the cards for the first sports season in the new school year, Marshall said by no means does that diminish the competitiveness or tenacity the program will demonstrate during the 2020 season.

“Just because there’s not that final goal of being a state champion, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to set goals every time we step on the field,” Marshall emphasized.

“That’s consistent with our program; this is a group of dedicated athletes who have high expectations, so I have no doubt that, even though the state championship isn’t the finish line, we will give it our all every time we’re on the field.”