WPIAL Girls Basketball Player of the Week — Week ending March 8
Sunday, March 8, 2020 | 9:12 PM
The WPIAL continues to dominate the first round of the PIAA Class 5A girls basketball playoffs, going 4-1 for a third straight season.
One of those teams flexing their muscles was Thomas Jefferson, the No. 3 team out of District 7. The Jaguars crushed District 6 champion Portage, 62-30, in an opening-round game Saturday.
In its previous game, Thomas Jefferson lost to eventual champion Chartiers Valley in the WPIAL semifinals in a rematch of the 2019 Class 5A title game, also won by the Colts.
“Any time you lose a big game, it’s hard,” Thomas Jefferson coach Lisa Fairman said. “But we quickly regroup, learn from it and focus on the next game. I’m very fortunate as a coach that my team never gives up and they stick together and pick each other up. I knew during our preparation for Portage that my girls were ready to go and are hungry to make a run in the states.”
Leading the way for TJ was a talented sophomore who happens to be the daughter of the coach. Graci Fairman scored a game-high 19 points against the Mustangs.
“I was very proud of Graci’s performance against Portage,” Fairman said. “She hustled both on offense and defense and was a leader on the court. She played with such passion and determination to help carry her team on to the next round in the states.”
Graci is one of five Fairman kids, and all are athletes. Eric plays baseball, Alysa plays softball, Garret plays football, Graci plays basketball and Hunter plays hockey.
Senior Alyssa D’Angelo and Junior Maddy Trainer each contributed 15 points against Portage.
Graci Fairman made a splash last year as a freshman, starting for a team that reached the district finals, the state semifinals and ended up with a 22-8 record. Half of Thomas Jefferson’s losses came against undefeated WPIAL and PIAA champion Chartiers Valley.
“Graci is a kid that loves being in the gym and has a great work ethic, which helps her to continue to get better,” Fairman said. “She plays fearless and uses her athleticism to lead by example and motivate others around her. This year, Graci has balanced out her game with not only being able to get to the rim, but also hitting the outside shots along with doing a great job of distributing the ball and finding the open player.”
Coach Fairman also feels another big part of her daughter’s success is her speed and footwork.
“Graci loves pushing the ball up the court to create transition scoring opportunities. She loves playing defense and getting the call to defend the other teams’ best players. She is a student of the game, so when it comes to game-scout preparation, she is always mentally prepared. Graci has great court vision and has the ability to beat defenders off the dribble to create scoring opportunities and make good decisions with the ball.”
Thomas Jefferson (19-7) will face another district team in the second round of the PIAA postseason Wednesday. The Jaguars hope to win their 20th game for a third straight season when they battle Woodland Hills (20-5) at Peters Township.
WPIAL Class 5A girls basketball teams have produced two straight state champions and are 18-3 in the first round of the state playoffs in four years since the expansion to six classes. Even more amazing is those three opening-round losses were all head-to-head matchups between district teams.
“Honestly, it’s amazing the overall talent that we have in the WPIAL,” Fairman said. “We have great players and teams throughout, so we are constantly playing at such a high level, which I think helps us in the state tournament.”
Lizzy Groetsch, North Allegheny
Junior Lizzy Groetsch has led the way in three straight North Allegheny postseason wins, including their state playoff opener Friday. After helping North Allegheny win a third WPIAL 6A crown in the last four years, Groetsch scored 24 points as the Tigers cruised past Manheim Township by 24 points.
Christiane Frye, Central Valley
While fellow Section 2 rivals lost in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs, Central Valley survived an overtime thriller at Clarion University to move on to the second round. After teammate Allyson Kirby nailed a 3-pointer to force overtime, senior Christiane Frye took over, scoring seven of her game high 25 points in OT as the Warriors edged District 9 champion Punxsutawney.
Paige Julian, Mohawk
Most coaches around the state were preaching that their teams had to turn the page from their district playoffs to focus on the state playoffs. Newly minted WPIAL Class 3A champion Mohawk decided to remain on the same Paige. Junior Paige Julian pumped in a game-high 24 points as there was no championship hangover for the Warriors as they beat United by 24 points.
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