The Sacred Heart Lady Crusaders are looking for direction with a new coach midway through the season. Veteran coach Matt O’Keefe came out of retirement to lead the team after the previous coach left after just nine games. O’Keefe, who has been retired for the last 12 years, is the fifth coach in five years for the Lady Crusaders.
With only three weeks under his belt with the team, O’Keefe has already made an immediate impact on the team and despite dodging three previous attempts by the school to hire him, O’Keefe said he thinks he’ll stick around. The 30-year coaching veteran has children enrolled at Sacred Heart and he said he’s looking forward to building on the success of the previous coaches.
“It was difficult at first for these girls to pick up on my philosophy, but their attitudes have been wonderful and they have worked really hard,” he said. “It has not been an easy transition for our kids but they are buying into our system and really playing well as of late.”
After a grueling first half of the season, O’Keefe’s message has translated into good play for the Lady Crusaders and the team is now on a four-game winning streak and stands 2-0 in district play.
O’Keefe said freshman Gracie Falla will be heavily relied on to lead the team. Already averaging nine points per game, O’Keefe believes she may be the spark his team needs to succeed.
But with only ten players on the roster, O’Keefe has his work cut out for him. Traditionally, the school has always been a girls soccer powerhouse, which has limited the number of athletes who wanted to pursue basketball.
While some girls play both sports, it limits the time they have to practice and that creates an additional set of challenges, said O’Keefe.
“Being such a small school, we have to shared athletes,” O’Keefe said. “Our soccer program is so strong here. It’s not a negative thing but its difficult only having them a couple days of the week. The soccer coaches have been great about helping us develop these young kids in both sports. Avery was a good player for us. Her injury has hurt us a bit, but we also have had some of our youth step up and feel that void”
This year’s team is young with the starting five consisting of freshmen, sophomores, and just one junior, but O’Keefe’s team has set the goal to finish in the top two in district play and earn a playoff berth. However, considering the school has had just one winning season – ever – O’Keefe knows it’s a launching pad.
Last season, the Lady Crusaders ended the season with an 18-13 record with a second-round playoff loss to McAdams.
“I’ve been a basketball coach my entire career,” O’Keefe said. “Although its more challenging here, this group of kids I have this year is a special bunch of kids. The fact that our girls are so young has me excited to coach again. We have to get more kids to tryout and play basketball here. We are pushing to have winning seasons every year instead of one in the schools history. I grew up around sports my whole life. My dad was the coach of William Carey baseball when they won a National Championship. I would like to take all my years experience and the winning traditions I have been around and leave it with these kids while I’m head coach. I have been blessed with my career and hope to help this team to accomplish their dreams and create a story of their own.”