Depth, athleticism, experience.
The Sacred Heart Greenwich basketball team is blessed with such attributes, which it hopes guides it to a destination it came oh, so close to reaching last season — the FAA Tournament finals.
The Tigers’ season concluded last winter with a tough 49-46 loss to Hamden Hall Country Day School in the FAA Tournament semifinals, in a game most of the players on this year’s squad competed in.
“We lost to Hamden Hall the past two seasons in the FAA semifinals, so ending our season like that gives us motivation to go farther,” said Sacred Heart senior 6-foot-1 center Sarah Eckerson, who was one of the squad’s leading scorers and rebounders during its 2017-18 campaign. “I’m really excited about the team and our season. We lost some players from last year, so we have a new dynamic, but the team is coming together well so far. We’re going into the season with a lot of motivation.”
Coached by Ayo Hart, Sacred Heart opened its 2018-19 season in style, posting a 37-28 road win against Hotchkiss School on Saturday. Eckerson scored 12 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, while junior guard Leah Atkins tallied a team-high 16 points for the Tigers, who were also sparked by a solid defensive effort.
“Our defense is a strong point for our team and it showed in our first game,” said senior co-captain/guard Ryan Smith, a three-sport standout at Sacred Heart. “We threw on our press, surprising them at times and it helped us create turnovers and get the ball back.”
Claire Liddy, a senior forward, also serves as one of the Tigers’ captains. She helped captain the school’s soccer squad as well.
“Chemistry is really important and we are already off to a really good start with that,” Liddy said. “We are working on staying composed and taking care of the ball — avoiding turnovers. It’s very easy to get flustered when we travel to play boarding schools, who bring big crowds to the game.”
Varsity experience is an asset that should help the team keep its focus in close games.
“We lost five seniors last year, but we’ve picked up some really strong young players as well,” Hart said. “We return a lot of solid players and our core group of girls have all gotten stronger. Physically stronger and faster. We have a lot of athletes, the energy is great and the kids are pumped up and sharing the ball well.”
AT THE HELM: Hart begins her second season as coach at Sacred Heart. The Tigers finished with a record of 8-10 last season and made it to the FAA semifinals. Prior to arriving at Sacred Heart, Hart coached basketball at Mount Vernon (N.Y.) High School and Fox Lane (N.Y.) High School, guiding both schools to winning seasons throughout her tenure.
“Coach is great, we all love her,” Liddy said. “She has a lot of energy, she is never sitting down and is very positive.”
WHO’S GONE? Center Laura Holland, who averaged double digits in scoring and rebounding, graduated, along with guard Stephanie Jordan, shooting guard Ciara Henry, Julia Spiegel and foward Anya Ramseur-Moore.
“They were key players in all aspects of the game,” Hart said. “Besides being strong players, they understood our team concept.”
WHO’S BACK? Atkins starts at point guard, where she will be relied upon to facilitate the offense, while helping to carry the scoring load. She also starred on the Tigers’ soccer squad, which advanced to the FAA semifinals.
“A lot of our new players are guards, which is nice, because coach Hart can sub us in or out a little bit, since we have depth at that position,” Atkins said. “On offense we want to get the ball up court quickly, move it around and try to catch teams by surprise. Leaving the soccer season, I thought I was fit, but basketball is a different type of conditioning, so I’m coming along.”
Smith, who will play lacrosse at Boston College, also served as a captain on the Tigers’ field hockey team and will be one of the captains of the lacrosse team in the spring. She is one of the team’s high-energy, defensive players.
Junior Sophia Curto brings her shooting touch to the backcourt, along with senior MaryAnne Gallagher. Morgan Smith, a junior, can play both forward or guard, while Liddy should see action at both small and power forward.
Eckerson possesses a strong low-post game and also has the ability to step out on the perimeter and shoot, while sophomore Alana Frederick provides depth at both guard positions.
First-year players on the team include senior Lindsay Morgner, eighth-grader Olivia Caponiti (also a field hockey goalie) and freshmen Franny O’Brien and Sarah Augustine.
STRENGTHS: “Our athleticism, which we will capitalize on as much as we can, is an asset,” Hart said. “They are quick, aggressive and they work well together. “We also have a lot of depth on our bench. We’re going to be able to go 12 deep at times, which is nice because of our up-tempo play.”
Said Smith: “Our young kids are great this year, they are really going to help us. They come to practice and do whatever they can to get better, which is all you can ask for.”
COACH’S COMMENT: “One of the goals that I’m sure our (team) has is to get further in the FAA Tournament,” Hart said. “My goals for them is for all of them to become better basketball players. I want them to improve their fundamentals and become smarter basketball players.”