South’s Pfirman happy to be playing with Maryland in NCAA tourney

The little girl who dreamed of playing big-time Division I basketball should have been living that dream as a young woman.

A year earlier, South Williamsport all-time leading scorer Tierney Pfirman had signed to play at Maryland and even opened her freshman season in the starting lineup. But there she sat last March, still dreaming. Instead of playing in the NCAA tournament, Pfirman turned spectator, sidelined after contracting mononucleosis just two weeks after returning from a dislocated knee injury that had forced her to miss four weeks.

The experience hurt more emotionally than physically. A year later, though, Pfirman is enjoying the good times. Maryland plays Tennessee Sunday in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 and Pfirman will be the place she loves most – on the court. Her freshman year might not have been the fairy tale season she hoped, but Pfirman is not looking back. She simply is happy about the opportunity she has been given and the more that lay in front of her.

“It puts things in perspective last year. You get a feel for the environment but it’s nothing like being on the floor and playing in front of the crowd,” Pfirman said a day after helping Maryland defeat Texas, 69-64 in the second round in College Park. “It’s just the release of knowing all the hard work is paying off. March Madness is a big deal and to be playing is gratifying.”

Pfirman is a key reserve on a deep and talented team that is playing in the Sweet 16 for a second straight year. Ten of the 14 Terrapins (26-6) average more than 13 minutes per game. Pfirman is one of them, a valuable and versatile player who is playing power forward a year after playing guard. It was not an easy journey back after last year’s setbacks or transition to a new position, but Pfirman has learned a lot about herself and Maryland likes who she has become.

“Tierney has had a tremendous impact on our team and program,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “Her versatility to play multiple positions at her size is a tremendous advantage. She can score, rebound, pass and handle the ball with guard skills. Her basketball IQ is extremely high.”

Pfirman has possessed those qualities since she first started dribbling a basketball. Just as important, she now is a stronger player. Pfirman is in the best shape of her life and has embraced the different challenges college basketball has presented. Conquering them has become the fun part.

Instead of sulking after last year’s frustrating conclusion, Pfirman attacked the offseason and has returned to give her team a shot at a coveted Final 4 run. She is averaging 5.4 points per game, 3.9 rebounds per game, fourth on the team, and also is hitting 48 percent of her shots. The scoring is more of a bonus since Pfirman is counted on more to ignite Maryland’s up-tempo transition game off her rebounding.

“It definitely made me tougher mentally and physically knowing what I could endure,” Pfirman said. “I was getting into the flow of things last year and adjusting to the style of play and when the knee injury happened it was like I had to start over again. But, overall any injury makes you tougher because it’s a constant fight to come back stronger and play the role you need to. You have to accept that and make changes to perform.”

Growing up in South Williamsport, that was never a problem. Pfirman always was her team’s best player, the area’s premier player. When she reached high school Pfirman already was attracting huge crowds and helping some sell out. She was a four-time all-state selection, a four-time Sun-Gazette Player of the Year and scored 2,309 career points, the second-highest in Lycoming County history.

Those achievements and excelling against big-time competition in AAU basketball helped Pfirman earn her Maryland scholarship. All those achievements, though, meant nothing upon arrival. Pfirman had arrived at the next level and nothing was given. If she was to achieve her dream of playing, Pfirman would have to earn everything all over again.

“The biggest transition is the tempo and the style of play. You better be running here. If you’re not running you’re not going to play,” Pfirman said. “It’s learning to run and keeping up with the team and being able to run and play defense and then sprinting back and constantly going. Coming in they work you hard. After being in the system two years now, you know what you have to contribute to make the team successful.”

Technically, Pfirman majors in early childhood education but really she majors in basketball. The sophomore does well in the classroom but her life revolves around basketball which is a full-time job. Pfirman spends most of her time at the Comcast Center, Maryland’s home court and often is there all day and all night. By the time the season ends, its nearly time for finals and then the summer workouts begin and the cycle continues.

But that is what Pfirman likes most. If she does not experience some of the things non-athletes do in college that is fine. She is right where she wants to be, doing exactly what she wants, often in front of her family who come to all the home games. Bring on the obstacles.

“It’s always busy, always constant. The wow factor is still there, thinking about going from little South Williamsport to the University Maryland, but I don’t think I’ve experienced reminiscing,” Pfirman said. “There’s always a challenge. That’s what you’re working toward. You can never be satisfied. It’s overcoming one challenge so I can get to the next one and overcome that. That’s the daily life.”

Maryland was ravaged by injuries early last season and was down to eight players at one point. Pfirman immediately made an impact and helped the Terps remain in the Top 10. She dealt eight assists in one of her first games and started in 12 games before suffering the dislocated knee after colliding with a teammate at a walk-through during practice. While playing early was a plus, Pfirman missed most of the ACC games, the ACC Tournament and three NCAA Tournament games. Essentially, she missed almost all the fun ones.

That is why this season has meant so much. Pfirman has played in all 32 games and shined in a first-round NCAA Tournament win over Rutgers, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds. She also has twice grabbed 10 rebounds in a game this season, including against Ohio State in the Big 10/ACC Challenge. Pfirman was named to the Terrapin All-Tournament team at last December’s holiday tournament too.

All that was nice, but the simple thrill of still playing in late March is what means the most. Maryland is two wins from reaching the Final 4. The Terps are playing a storied program in Tennessee and are four wins from capturing a national championship. This is exactly the situation Pfirman envisioned while growing up. Now she truly is living the dream.

“We are so fortunate to have a player like Tierney in our program,” Frese said. “She’s the ultimate team player and a joy to coach.”