Coming off a season in which it advanced to the championship game of the FAA Tournament, then earned a berth into the NEPSAC Tournament for the first time in program history, the Sacred Heart Greenwich basketball team believes the potential is there for it to duplicate last season’s success.
“I feel we have the potential to get back to the FAA finals, but really I want to take it one day at a time and teach our team the right process,” Sacred Heart coach Ayo Hart said. “If we go through the right process we will be there at the end of the season.”
For the second straight year, the Tigers enter their season having graduated five seniors from their previous campaign, so they’re seeking to build chemistry and teamwork with each practice and game.
Their season-opener against visiting Maria Regina served as a solid learning lesson for Sacred Heart. Maria Regina, a unfamiliar foe for Sacred Heart, broke open a close game, scoring the final 14 points on its way to a 54-33 win.
“Playing a team like Maria Regina the first game was exciting,” said Sacred Heart senior co-captain Morgan Smith, who plays both guard and forward. “To get some new team exposure was really fun. We haven’t played together a lot, so we have a little bit of meshing to do, but that will come with time. It was our first game and I feel like it was a good starting point, it gave us good teaching points.”
Also returning to lead the squad is senior point guard Leah Atkins, who helped power the Tigers offensively the previous three seasons. Atkins and Smith are two of just three seniors on the new-look team.
“Our team is very young this year, but I put all the trust in our eighth-graders, who are going to be playing my my side and our sophomores.”
Atkins is relishing her role as one of the Tigers’ captains.
“It’s awesome, I’ve been waiting since freshman year to be a captain,” Atkins said. “I like leading the younger kids and try to make it fun for them. It’s a fun role.”
The Tigers received scoring from eight different players during Tuesday’s season-opening game against Maria Regina, a theme they hope to follow this winter.
“Our scoring has been fairly balanced and that is what is going to make us a little dangerous,” Hart said. “We can get points from more than one or two players. We can get five or 10 points from five or six different girls.”
Here’s a look at this season’s Tigers team.
AT THE HELM: Hart is beginning her third season as Sacred Heart’s coach. She guided the Tigers to a record of 18-7 during its 2018-2019 season and to a spot in the FAA Tournament finals. Sacred Heart was defeated by FAA rival St. Luke’s School in the FAA final, 53-43, in a hard-fought game. The Tigers’ impressive record earned them a berth in the NEPSAC tourney for the first time, where they lost to Marianapolis.
WHO’S GONE: Graduation claimed captains Sarah Eckerson, Ryan Smith and Claire Liddy. Eckerson was the Tigers’ starting center and leading scorer and rebounder. Smith brought speed, aggressiveness and strong defense to the guard position and Liddy was an effective shooter at forward.
Also graduating from last season’s successful squad were Lindsay Morgner and guard MaryAnne Gallagher. Smith is playing lacrosse at Boston College.
“Our seniors last year meant so much,” Hart said. “They brought experience and they kept our team unified. There were good talkers, good communicators in that group.”
WHO’S BACK?: Atkins is experienced at running the offense and has a good outside shot, along with the ability to drive to the basket. Smith brings depth and sound defensive play to the backcourt and can also aid the squad in the rebounding department as a forward. Senior Sophia Curto gives the team a shooting presence in the backcourt, while junior Alana Frederick brings athleticism and speed to the guard position.
Sophomore Sarah Augstine, who scored four points in Tuesday’s season-opener, begins her first season as the Tigers’ starting center and freshman Olivia Caponiti returns for her second season at forward. Kate Hong, a sophomore, is back at guard and sophomore Franny O’Brien starts her second year on the squad as a guard.
NEWCOMERS: Peyton Sfreddo and Madison Hart are a pair of eighth graders who should spark the Tigers offensively. Sfreddo scored a team-high 10 points, including a 3-pointer in her varsity debut on Tuesday. Hart, the coach’s daughter, contributed five points and converted a 3-point shot. Sophomore Caitlyn Petrizzo, a guard, added three points in her first varsity game.
STRENGTHS: “We have some tall players and we have some versatile guards, which is good,” Smith said. “Almost all of our players can play both positions, which is good. Our focus has been getting the ball into our post players, who are very good and we have a lot of strong guards, who can get it into the post.”
Said Hart: “We can really go 10 deep, so we have a deep bench. We have an inside presence and a guard presence, so we can mix it up a little bit.”
CAPTAIN’S COMMENT: “Hopefully, we can make it to New Englands again,” Atkins said. “It would be a great accomplishment if we get there again.”
Said Smith: “We are trying to improve on our defense, since we lost Sarah Eckerson and Ryan Smith, who were two key components of our defense. So we have to work as a unit, since the majority of our girls on the court are new.”
DID YOU KNOW?: Smith and Caponiti played on Sacred Heart’s NEPSAC Class A title winning field hockey team this past fall. Frederick was the Tigers’ soccer team’s leading scorer in the fall.