By Randy Whetstone Jr.
After a crushing state championship loss to West Jessamine last fall, Sacred Heart learned what it means to be resilient. Through their hard work in training and their impressive execution throughout each game, the Valkyries (15-2) have found themselves atop the seventh region once again. For a group of girls who are already passionate about winning and being their very best, a state championship loss became just the push they needed to stay motivated and hungry.
“We do a lot of reflection in our program,” says Head Coach Jaclyn Puntillo. “We watch a lot of film and we talk a lot about what we did well, but mostly focus on the areas we can improve upon. When you’re constantly thinking about what you could have done better, it’s hard to become complacent.”
Sacred Heart knows there isn’t any room for error. With their rich tradition and a sacred culture that prides itself on success, teams are always giving them their best shot. Now that postseason play is here, the Valkyries will look to take it up a notch in their quest at redemption and a chance to avenge their state championship loss.
When you walk into a Sacred Heart practice or attend one of their games, you will see a team full of passionate individuals who are also passionate about one another. “They don’t play for themselves as individuals; they play for the team so they are always trying their best for their teammates,” Puntillo adds.
Having coached different athletes year in and year out, even Coach Puntillo admits she has learned a lot from this program during her tenure. “I’m decent at my job because one of my greatest strengths is that I care about my players on a human level,” she adds. “I have a very strong sense of loyalty to them, and I always want to do whatever is in my power to help them reach their goals both on and off the field.”
Sacred Heart is dominant on the field, but it also translates into everyday life. If you were to wonder how this soccer program views or defines success, it would be easy to point to their win column over the years. However, for them, ultimate success is not weighed by wins alone. “We are preparing our players for their next journey, whether that’s playing soccer or not. We want to turn out players who know how to be a part of a team, who know how to manage their time and stress, who feel confident in a variety of situations,” Puntillo adds.
A defining moment came when Coach Puntillo saw her team rally around recent graduates and their families affected by deaths in their family. As kids came to her office, questioning her about life’s calamities, it was in those moments that she gained a greater perspective as a coach.
“For so long, so much of my life has been wrapped up in what happens on the field—as a player and now as a coach—but in the grand scheme of things, the wins and losses don’t matter. What matters is the community that we’ve created, the really good people that come out of Sacred Heart and our program and the support system that is available to these players long after they’re in the program.”
As the team prepares for the postseason, they know they cannot overlook the seventh region with teams like Manual, Assumption, Male and CAL all staring them down. The Valkyries will rely heavily on Lexie Wagner, who emerged as a premier leader and athlete on the roster. As a sophomore, you may not have associated the word captain with Lexie, who Coach Puntillo says has certainly earned and embraced the role quite well.
“Lexie has always been one of our hardest workers, but she has really matured as a player in the last year and has provided some really essential positive leadership within our team. She also is very comfortable acting as a liaison between the players and me, letting me know when they need more rest or need to be pushed a little harder.”
Lexie will be leading the troops, as they look to claim state champion honors once again. Sacred Heart won the state title back in 2015, and Puntillo says if the team can stay healthy and focused, she thinks “we will be in good shape.”