You’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive individual field hockey season than the one Eastern’s Ryleigh Heck just put on display this past season for the Vikings.
Over the course of Heck’s four year career at Eastern, the team went a combined 89-4, which included two undefeated seasons during her freshman and junior seasons, while also finishing each season as the leading scorer for the team for a combined 323 total goals during the course of her career.
Perhaps most impressively, Heck set the national single-season record for goals with 125 on the final shot of her career to complete the comeback against Oak Knoll to clinch the program’s ninth, and Heck’s second, Tournament of Champions title.
In essence, the resume speaks for itself; the aforementioned accomplishments cement Heck as a more than deserving face on the Mt. Rushmore of greatest high school field hockey careers in United States history. For that, Ryleigh Heck is South Jersey Sports Weekly’s 2021 Field Hockey Player of the Year.
Eastern head coach Kerry Heck, who is also Ryleigh’s mom, noted that the sheer tenacity within Ryleigh to be constantly striving to get better regardless of accomplishments she’s already attained helps set her apart from the rest.
“Her work ethic is just off the charts,” Kerry said. “You have to want to do this, whether or not you have the talent. With everything that she does to prepare for every game — between going to the gym before school, her personal trainer, club practices, stick work on her own outside of practice — it’s things like that and more than help set her up to be as successful as she has been.”
Despite an abbreviated 2020 season due to the COVID pandemic, Heck scored 76 goals in just 14 games for the Vikings, good for an average of nearly 5.5 goals per game. Coming into her senior season, Heck was simply happy that the team and the rest of the state was able to return to a traditional slate of games and didn’t set an individual statistical goal for herself for the season, but instead aimed for a Tournament of Champions appearance and title after not getting the opportunity the year prior.
“We were really excited as a team to get back to a full schedule and be able to have the chance to play for a state championship and Tournament of Champions title after not getting that chance last year,” Ryleigh said. “I wasn’t focusing on or thinking about that single-season scoring record at all at the beginning of the year or as the season went on, instead I just wanted to focus on our team goals.”
Eastern boasted a large and strong senior class this season, with Izzy Bianco and Riley Hudson ranking as the top two assist leaders in the state with 52 and 43 respectively, while fellow senior Tess Herman’s 24 assists were also good for top ten in the state this past season as well.
Heck credited her connection with those teammates, and many others, as the foundation that made such an outstanding season possible.
“So many of us have been close for so long now having played together for years, having that ability to trust each other and have that experience with one another just made it feel easier to be out there,” Heck said. “It’s one of the best feelings to have that connection on the field, you feel safe in a way because you know they can get you the ball or stop it and what not.
“It’s to the point where some of us are close enough that when something isn’t going right on the field or one of us gets frustrated, the others know not only what it is that’s wrong but how to fix it without needing to say anything, you can just read it on the other’s face… it’s one of the most unique relationships both on and off the field,” she added.