Team chemistry key for TJ girls basketball

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Friday, March 8, 2019 | 7:33 PM


Does winning spark good team chemistry, or does good team chemistry enhance winning?

While talent is an integral part of any winning program, team chemistry certainly can be important.

Take, for example, the Thomas Jefferson girls basketball team.

The Jaguars reached the WPIAL finals this season for the first time since 1980. The TJ girls fell to Chartiers Valley, 64-48, in the championship game March 2 at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

Thomas Jefferson, now 19-7, took an eight-game winning streak, along with 10 wins in 11 games, into the WPIAL finals.

The Jaguars, which will play Trinity (12-12) in the PIAA first round Saturday, held pasta dinners once a week during the regular season at De Bennett’s house. Bennett is a 5-foot-4 junior guard.

“The dinners were Wednesday evenings right after practice, before Thursday games,” said TJ assistant Skylar Meier. “The girls would eat while hanging out together. It would allow them to forget about the X’s and O’s and just have fun, then head home for school work.”

The TJ girls also participated in a team dinner at Meier’s house, a sleepover at Julia Shearn’s house, and a Christmas party at coach Lisa Fairman’s house. Shearn is a 5-6 senior guard.

“I think bonding activities are extremely important to a team’s chemistry and success,” Fairman said. “It’s not always easy for student-athletes to keep up the grades and give their all every day in the sports they play. Sports provide so much more than just the X’s and O’s. It’s an opportunity to build friendships and make memories. Team bonding activities provide that.

“The team you play for becomes your second family and I think it’s important to have fun. So many lessons are learned in sports, such as teamwork, leadership and commitment, but most importantly it’s being a part of a something you enjoy and becoming a family.”

The Jaguars also attended Robert Morris and West Virginia women’s basketball games.

“These things are always optional, but the whole team (varsity and junior varsity) came to everything all year,” Meier said.

For the WPIAL playoffs, the Jaguars went to Lydia Shaw’s house for dinner. Shaw is a 5-7 junior guard/forward.

“It was a dinner and a Just Dance competition on the Wii with the three seniors being team captains,” Meier said. “They had a blast and we (coaches) considered it secret conditioning.”

Although the Jaguars lost in the WPIAL championship game, the overall experience was one they will not soon forget.

“The postseason was a dream come true for these girls and this community,” Fairman said. “We had a police and fire truck sendoff on Saturday with the street full of people cheering us on. Words can’t express the emotions of love and support we all felt on that bus.”

And that support carried over to the Petersen Events Center, which the TJ girls couldn’t help but notice.

“The stands were full and little kids in the program filled the floor seats behind us,” Fairman said. “Our high school team has made sure these girls feel apart of our team. I’m so proud of the positive roles models my team has set for this program, and I believe this program will flourish for years to come.”

Fairman actually is in her first season at her alma mater after coaching seven years at Belle Vernon. She switched roles quickly, jumping fulltime into TJ hoops.

“It was very important to me when I got hired here to reach out to all the youth players and get them involved with the program immediately,” she said. “Our high school girls have also believed in that, as well. There have been many times where our high school girls helped the younger kids with skills and drills.

“Every game this year, we had many grade school and middle school girls behind our bench supporting us. Our high school team even went to watch the little kids play. I believe this is how you build a program. Our team this year has worked so hard and accomplished so much together.”

Next up, the state playoffs.

The Jaguars advanced to the second round in last year’s PIAA tournament.

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