Izzy Bianco and Ryleigh Heck wrapped up their senior seasons at Eastern Regional High School in historic fashion, with the Vikings defeating Oak Knoll 4-3 as time expired to secure the program’s ninth Meet of Champions title in the final year of the tournament’s existence.
The goal, off the stick of Heck, set the single-season national high-school record for goals in a season at 125. Bianco, the team’s second leading scorer, was also the team’s assist leader with 52 on the year, having set up Heck often.
For most, such a moment would be the perfect ending to a legendary connection between two high-school athletes, regardless of the sport, as Bianco heads to the University of Louisville next fall and Heck will go to UNC.
That’s not the case for these two. The Viking duo are taking their talents to an impressive level later this spring, with both having recently been named to the U.S. Rise Women’s (U19) National Team travel roster and scheduled to take part in a four-game international series against the Canada U-18 Team at Wake Forest University in May.
Both Bianco and Heck have been selected for various teams and camps throughout their middle- and high-school field hockey careers, sometimes together, but often apart. Since first playing together on a club team back in 2015, the childhood friends have continued to grow in their games both individually and together.
Their connection took an obviously big step forward in the past season, after Heck set the single-season high-school scoring record, with plenty of assistance from Bianco.
Such a strong connection between two talented players already built into the team’s structure, should be a big benefit to the national team. For Heck and Bianco specifically, having a close friend on the team even before showing up will be beyond comforting.
“We do have an already strong relationship from playing together [at Eastern] for as long as we have, so when we’ve played on teams or at camps in the past, we always stand out a little more because we can play so well together,” Bianco said. “And it’s definitely helpful knowing that I already know someone on the team.
“It’s going to be girls from all over the country, where some might be the only one on the team from their state,” she added. “Meanwhile, I get to have a teammate who’s from my same high school, which is really comforting.”
According to the two players, the plan since this past summer has been for them to make the team together.
“This was a big goal of mine personally,” Heck said. “I was working really hard to make this team, and I know Izzy was working just as hard to do so as well. We both pushed each other to get to this point because we both know what we’re capable of … We have a special connection on the field and it shows.
“We basically live like two minutes from each other and have really grown up playing field hockey together at this point,” Heck added. “I know New Jersey is big into field hockey, and Eastern specifically has a huge field hockey atmosphere, so we’re proud to represent it in that way.”
Heck, who was previously on the USA Field Hockey Women’s U-17 National Team, traveled to Europe to take on Germany and Belgium earlier in high school, before more potential international games were postponed and ultimately canceled due to COVID. Having felt like she learned a lot from playing foreign opponents with different styles of play, Heck said she’s looking forward to the new competition.
“It will be fun to see the different competition from another country like that again that I’ve never played against before,” she said. “It can just feel very different. I felt that I learned a lot even from just five minutes on the field with them, let alone a whole game.”
Bianco, who played in a test series against Canada with another team, saw limited action in the small sample size of opportunity available back in 2020, is excited to take part in an expanded four-game schedule with greater potential for more playing time, while also fulfilling a childhood dream.
“I just want to make sure I take the experience all in, since I’m lucky enough to get to take part in it at all,” she said. “Plus it’s always been my goal to wear a USA jersey in a game like this. I want to enjoy the moment as best I can while also playing as hard as I can with the team that was picked.”