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How Sacred Heart Built Their Strong Start

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How Sacred Heart Built Their Strong Start

The Sacred Heart players celebrate Reese Torticill's third try against Army. Photo Gregory Vasil Iconic Sports Imagery.

It’s nice to be 2-0, and Sacred Heart is exactly that, but let’s not get carried away.

The Pioneers, having beaten Army 31-7 and Brown 22-8 this past weekend, have to be thought of as a major player in NIRA DI. But Head Coach Michelle Reed also cautions everyone to keep it in perspective.

“It’s a huge positive for us, and going through the rest of the season we know we can play at that standard,” Reed told GRR. “But we just want to stay focused on the next game and not get too far ahead of ourselves.”

At the same time, they do have the right to look back at the weekend and coming back from a deficit of 8-5 in the second half to beat Brown.

“One of the biggest things in the game was how we were able to build even more trust in our team,” said Reed. “To be able to come back late in the game and continue to put scores on and not give up, that was important.”

One of the players told Reed that the feeling among the team was a resounding “No! We don’t like this on our field.”

So what has fueled this step forward by the Pioneers? Well, first off, it’s not a massive surprise, because Sacred Heart tied Brown last year and ended up 2-4-1 in 15-a-side rugby, followed by a pretty nice 7s season in which they won their own Shark Attack 7s and going 13-8. Add to that an excellent recruiting year that included highly-touted sisters Olivia and Reece Woods and outside center Reese Torticill  and you certainly have some expectation of improvement for this season.

With lock Ashley Torres-Brown coming into her own and Alyssa Cunningham an elusive, skilled playmaker at fullback, the Pioneers also had some experience combined with ability.

Then there was some good news where it wasn’t necessarily expected … but hoped for. Flyhalf Sam McGann had struggled with injuries but now healthy has become the linchpin of the backline.

“She is the glue in the backs,” said Reed. “She just set people up so well, her kicking has gotten much better and overall she’s just come into he own. She just needed to be able to play and gain that confidence.”

With Cunningham, McGann provides a second kicking option and that allows the Pioneers to control field position. 

Up front Makena Wright was switched last year from center to flanker. Now she has taken on the job of leading the forwards.

“When she started with us she was in the centers,” said Reed. “But in her junior year we said ‘no, you’re a flanker.’ And she just grabbed onto it and worked hard and became better. After we gave her that leadership role she has really stepped up her skill and intensity.”

Torres-Brown has become a dominant offensive threat, while Torticill and the Woods sisters have indeed stepped right into starting roles. All three are skilled and powerful enough to take on that responsibility.

“We’ve brought in some really great athletes with rugby IQ and that has helped boost the intensity, which has spread throughout the team,” said Reed. “That’s what we were looking for.”

Perhaps overlooked, Sacred Heart’s coaches and players are proud of their school’s academic record—their nursing, physical therapy, and business programs are especially strong—which has fueled record enrollment this year. 

Maybe those new students just want to see their rugby team play.