Trib HSSN Girls Basketball Player of the Week: Jenna Clark, Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, February 24, 2019 | 9:14 PM

Jenna Clark

School: Thomas Jefferson

Class: Senior

In sports, the old saying is to beat defending champion, you have to knock them out. It comes from boxing, where, if it comes to a judge’s decision, the champ usually retains.

In the WPIAL Class 5A girls basketball playoffs, Thomas Jefferson didn’t just sneak by 2018 winner Gateway. The Jaguars delivered a decisive knockout punch to advance to the final four.

Throwing and connecting on most of the haymakers was senior guard Jenna Clark. She scored 29 points as the Jaguars rolled past the Gators, 79-52, in a quarterfinal Saturday.

“She played amazing against Gateway. She was just in a zone,” Thomas Jefferson coach Lisa Fairman said. “She stepped up on defense, and, as a true point guard, she sees the floor and distributed the ball to the open girls.”

The victory avenged the Jaguars’ three-point loss in the WPIAL quarterfinals last year.

The win was the seventh straight for the Jaguars (18-6) and second of this postseason. They began the playoffs Tuesday with a 79-36 victory over Plum in the first round.

“Jenna was a leader for our team right off the jump ball,” Fairman said. “She is very focused and determined. Her energy has been contagious to everyone on our team.”

Clark scored 25 points in the win, one fewer than teammate Alyssa DeAngelo.

Fairman is in her first year as coach at her alma mater after seven years at Belle Vernon. From what she has seen and heard, Clark has improved her game without the basketball this season.

“I believe she has improved on defense, and she has worked so hard in the off season and even during the season to continue to get better on every aspect of her game. She pays close attention to detail and continuously works on reps.”

Fairman is also a big fan of Clark’s performance away from the court.

“Her leadership on and off the court is an inspiration to all young athletes. She is an excellent student in the classroom. Her commitment and determination are strengths that make good players become great players ,and that is what she has done.“

Now for Clark, Fairman and the rest of the Jaguars, it’s on to the district semifinals Wednesday against 2018 runner-up Oakland Catholic.

“It was truly an amazing feeling to beat Gateway and know we are now headed to the final four,” Fairman said. “As a coach, there is nothing better than to see the look of excitement and smiles on the girls’ faces (Saturday) after the game.

“We need to remain focused and start preparing for Oakland Catholic. If we continue to play our game as we have been, then these girls know their dreams can become reality.”

Honorable mention:

Bri Spirnak, Elizabeth Forward

Spirnak’s scholastic career began three years ago when Elizabeth Forward won nine games and missed the WPIAL playoffs. Now as a senior, she played a big part in a section title and, after two wins last week, a trip to the semifinals for the Warriors. On Monday, Spirnak scored 21 points in a 51-42 win over Knoch. Then the Warriors ended the Cinderella hopes of Quaker Valley in the 4A quarterfinals with a 46-38 victory as Spirnak led all scorers with 23 points.

Sierra D’Angelo, Oakland Catholic

After practicing and scrimmaging for two weeks away from “real” competition, players and teams sometimes have a tough time finding their game. That might have been the case for Oakland Catholic, as the No. 2-seed in Class 5A led Mars, 11-9, after one quarter. But the Eagles outscored the 2018 state champs 42-25 in the next two quarters with most of the scoring credited to DeAngelo as the senior racked up 33 points in the 67-45 win over the Fightin’ Planets.

Taylor Kirschner, Quigley Catholic

Quigley Catholic stumbled down the stretch of the regular season, losing four of its last five games. But all coaches preachonce the playoffs start, everybody is 0-0. After last week, the Spartans are 2-0 thanks in large part to Kirschner. She scored 18 points Tuesday in a 47-33 win over Mapletown in the first round, then the senior guard scored 26 points Friday as the Spartans stunned No. 3 seed Greensburg Central Catholic, 71-55.

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