Though most of Sacred Heart Greenwich’s roster is the same as last season’s squad, which advanced to the FAA Basketball Tournament semifinals, there is one change.
Ayo Hart begins her first season as coach of the Tigers, replacing Jessica Branosky, who spent three successful years at the helm. Hart arrived at Sacred Heart from Mount Vernon (N.Y.) High School, where she coached the varsity girls team the past five years, guiding them to winning seasons. Prior to coaching at Mount Vernon, Hart guided the girls varsity basketball team at Fox Lane (N.Y.) High School for 13 years.
“I am excited about the opportunity I have here at Sacred Heart,” Hart said. “It’s a great community to be a part of. The athletes, facilities and families are great and I am really excited about the future.”
Hart takes over a team that is captained by seniors Laura Holland and Erin Cleary. An injury sustained in Sacred Heart’s semifinal-round game of the FAA Soccer Tournament will cause Cleary to be sidelined the entire season, as she tore her anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament. Yet she is still doing as much as she can to contribute to the squad and exhibit her leadership. She also served as a co-captain of the Tigers’ soccer team.
“Basically, I come to every single practice and game,” said Cleary, who underwent surgery last week and said the recovery process will take four months. “I feel if I keep my energy up, they will keep their energy up.”
The Tigers are 1-1, heading into Saturday’s home game against Canterbury School, after defeating Hotchkiss School and losing to Choate Rosemary Hall.
WHO’S GONE?: Graduation claimed captains Kristen Davis and Mackenzie Jordan. Davis provided shooting and solid ball-handling skills to the backcourt, while Jordan was a good defensive player, who ran the court well.
WHO’S BACK?: Holland gives the Tigers a strong presence in the low post. She should be among the team’s leading rebounders.
“She is our big, go-to player,” Hart said of Holland. “We are trying to get her more shots on the move — slashing from the high post.”
Sophomore point guard Leah Atkins has the skills to also spark the squad offensively. She scored a game-high 23 points in Sacred Heart’s season-opening 67-39 win over Hotchkiss and had 11 points in the team’s loss to Greenwich Academy in last season’s FAA Tournament semifinals.
“Leah is a very versatile player,” Hart said. “She is a great shooter, who can also go to the rim and she is a great defender.”
Junior guard Ryan Smith, who is coming off an outstanding field hockey season — she scored the game-winning goal for the Tigers in the FAA Tournament final — also brings versatility to the backcourt. She tallied 13 points, eight steals and six rebounds in Sacred Heart’s season-opener.
“Ryan is a very athletic player, who is really developing her basketball IQ, which is exciting,” Hart said.
Senior Ciara Henry, who plays both guard and forward, has an effective shooting touch from the perimeter and junior Claire Liddy adds depth at small or power forward. Junior forward Sarah Eckerson, a post player, is also among some of the returning players.
NEWCOMERS: Junior Mary Anne Gallagher and freshman Alana Frederick could be some of the squad’s key players off the bench in their first season on the team.
STRENGTHS: “Our team has a lot of athleticism, intensity and enthusiasm,” Hart said. “On any given day most of our players can score four to eight points.”
CAPTAIN’S COMMENT: “We’ve had success every year and once again, we want to go as far as we can in the FAA Tournament and see how far we go in NEPSAC,” Cleary said. “Hopefully, we can make it to the FAA final.”