By Cait Kemp
The Sacred Heart Academy girls basketball team won a Connecticut state championship in 2021-22 – the first for the program since 1993. But it was a whirlwind of a season.
During their run to the championship, the Sacred Heart players had to block out the negative media coverage that followed a 92-4 victory over Lyman Hall in January. It was not an easy feat, especially after their audience went from the usual local fans to nationwide attention, and after Sacred Heart issued an apology and suspended head coach Jason Kirck for one game. It was a difficult circumstance that the athletes were able to learn and grow from.
“Life is all about experiences and learning from experiences and growing as people and as a program,” Kirck said, “and that was an experience that we went through as a team and a program. We came out after a lot of thought and contemplation about it and we became better as a result of it.”
The Sharks’ championship didn’t come without challenges, either. After Sacred Heart raced out to a 16-point lead in the championship game, St. Joseph tied it up within the final minutes of the game. The Sharks took a slight lead, and after a St. Joseph’s player missed a buzzer-beater shot, Sacred Heart had sealed the championship.
This season, Sacred Heart is focused on getting back to that championship game. After achieving this ultimate goal, it can be difficult to two-peat and mirror a season with a different roster and new roles. However, Sacred Heart is using its experience to continue to work hard, hoping to make a playoff run once again.
“Our program goals don’t change no matter who graduates or who’s there,” Kirck said. “We want to compete and we want to get our girls good experiences and we want to go out into events like this and compete against awesome teams. We came back this year with the same goals we had and we’re working toward those every practice and every game.”
This season they are off to a 7-3 start and got to show off their talent in the 2023 Spalding Hoophall Classic. Though the Sharks fell 60-54 in a fierce battle against Springfield Central High School, they displayed a strong sense of toughness. Junior Lauren Thompson put up 20 points, knocking down several shots that kept Sacred Heart within a close range of Springfield Central.
Thompson was a contributor off the bench last season, but has taken on a bigger leadership role this year.
“Being one of the upperclassmen on the team is one of the most special roles I have had,” Thompson said. “We are going to lead the team and we’re going to get better, we’re going to work harder every day…we’re done losing.”
Meghan Kirck, also a junior, scored 15 points, and senior Emma Kirck added six points as well as seven rebounds for the Sharks. The outcome may not have been the one they wanted, but they were able to compete at a high level against another talented team who pushed them.
Thompson also recognizes the importance of being a part of an event such as Hoophall, giving the team a chance to perform on a big stage alongside some of the best teams in the nation.
“It means that hard work pays off,” Thompson said. “It’s a very special experience, positive experience and learning experience to play with the best teams in the country.”
After facing both ups and downs throughout last season, Sacred Heart has proven its ability to work past these difficult situations to come out on the very top – and its determination to get back there is already evident.
Photo: Luke Whitehouse/Springfield Student