In just his second season, Matt O’Keefe raised the ceiling with the Sacred Heart girls basketball program.
O’Keefe turned the Crusaders from a postseason Cinderella story team into one of the state’s most feared girls programs. O’Keefe helped guide Sacred Heart to win both the Region 8-1A regular season and tournament titles and appear in the 1A quarterfinals. These achievements earned O’Keefe the title of Pine Belt Sports Girls Coach of the Year for a second consecutive season.
“When we talked at the beginning of the season, we said that we didn’t want to be a flash in the pan and just be a neat story about a small catholic school that had one great season,” O’Keefe said. “We wanted to build on that.”
Sacred Heart finished the year 17-3 and 6-0 in region play while having to deal with three COVID-19 quarantines. Due to the quarantines, the Crusaders played multiple games without their top scorers, which O’Keefe credits to his team’s perseverance.
“We went through three COVID quarantines,” O’Keefe said. “We also had players through the year that we’re in the classroom setting that had to be quarantined again. It was very difficult going through three of them because we have a limited depth on our team anyway, and we actually lost two of our top leading scorers for numerous games.
“The biggest thing with the COVID situation, of course, is the health of the kids, but (also) the conditioning aspect. Not being able to practice that for that long over a long period of time and come back and having to start all over again. We were able to battle through it. I was proud for when some of our top players were out, we were still able to win and win the region.”
Despite the success, the 2020-21 season was O’Keefe’s final coaching season as he is stepping down as head coach due to health reasons.
“In my heart, I would want to coach another year, but I feel it’s best I do not,” O’Keefe said. “We are established now as a program. I expect them to do really big things next year. It’s a neat group of kids. For them to achieve what they have done, they have had to overcome a lot of obstacles. It’s a really hardworking group of girls. It’s a special group.”
In the last two years, O’Keefe accumulated a 31-9 record, won two region tournament titles, and led the Lady Crusaders to two of its deepest playoffs runs in program history. While O’Keefe is proud to leave the program better than he found it, he gives all the credit to his players.
“You have to give the players all the (credit) for the accolades,” O’Keefe said. “All I did was teach them that they could win in basketball. The girls deserve all the credit. They work six days a week.”
In a span of 26 seasons, O’Keefe posts a career record of 630-18, has won 15 girls region championships, six semifinals, and two state final appearances.
“My career has been so much fun,” O’Keefe said. “I have coached so many great kids. I’ve had a ton of kids go to college, and I’m very proud of that.
“I would have liked to win a gold ball, but I was (in Jackson) a lot. I’ve had a lot of ranked teams and teams ranked nationally. My career has been a ton of fun. I’ve had hundreds of great athletes and kids that I was blessed to coach over the years. I’m going to miss it. I’ll be at games, but I’m going to miss it.”