Decade’s best No. 1: South’s Tierney Pfirman became an area great in girls basketball
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a series looking back at the Top 10 girls basketball teams, coaches, games and players from the last decade.
Most high school basketball players are not signing autographs following their home games. Most high school players are not like Tierney Pfirman.
An athlete who had been hyped since elementary school, Pfirman became one of the greatest area girls basketball players ever. And that was just by her sophomore season. The South Williamsport legend dazzled like few before her and none since from 2008-12. By her junior season, Pfirman was being heavily recruited and seeing Division I coaches lining the South bleachers became the norm.
Only Kelly Mazzante had a more decorated area high school career and Pfirman captivated her community, playing the game better than anyone there ever has. The four-time all-state selection and two-time first team honoree shattered the South boys/girls scoring record with 2,309 points, earned four straight Sun-Gazette Player of the Year Awards and became the second-highest scorer in Lycoming County history.
South games were filled with fans and the 2011 South-Loyalsock game had to be moved to Williamsport to accommodate everyone who wanted to watch. Few have ever shined a light so bright on this small community and Pfirman burned bright every game before putting together an outstanding collegiate career at Maryland, which included two Final Four appearances, and playing professionally overseas.
“When you go to the gym and see people of all ages cheer her on and ask for autographs, that’s special,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said in 2012. “When I walked into the gym people wanted to talk to me because they had a story about Tierney or the Pfirman family. That’s wholesome and it has a small-town feel. People have really taken ownership and hopefully they follow her to College Park.”
“Every little kid has their hero, whether it’s a superhero or a singer or an athlete. Being a little kid I had my hero and it was Kelly. She was from a small town and made her dreams come true big-time,” Pfirman said after scoring her 2,000th point. “Those kids are in the position I was back then and that they actually got to know me, that’s a cool experience. Being a senior in high school, you don’t think of yourself as a superstar. I’m just a kid. People say I’ve meant a lot to them. It’s unreal.”
Pfirman wanted to be like Mazzante as she was growing up. Throughout Pfirman’s basketball journey since high school, young local players have wanted to be like her. She embraced the community and all challenges and was a force each season, getting better each year and decimating opponents despite double and triple teams and constant face-guarding. Pfirman helped South go 83-16 in four years, winning a District 4 Class AA championship and two HAC-II titles along the way.
People can debate where Pfirman ranks among the Top 4 best girls players in area history, but there is no denying she would be on that Mount Rushmore.
“I am thankful that I’ve been around here long enough to be here when a player of that caliber comes through,” former South coach Mike Allison said in 2012. “It’s special to be able to coach somebody like that and be a part of that experience as a coach.”
Pfirman seemed destined for greatness early on. While coaching in the John Bower League, her mother Kim remembered a parent watching Pfirman dribble and say she would one day be playing Division I basketball. She was just 2 years old.
Predictions like that became more widespread as Pfirman began dominating through elementary school and junior high. This reporter remembers hearing tales of Pfirman’s greatness years before she reached high school.
“I was coaching junior high and I remember all these coaches asking me, ‘when is this Pfirman girl going to start playing?'” Allison said. “She was not even out of elementary school and they were already asking about her. It’s been nice to be a part of this experience and to see Tierney grow as a player and as a person and a leader on the team as each season came and went.”
Pfirman more than lived up to the hype and was a third team all-state selection as a freshman, powering South to a 25-2 record, a district championship and the second round of states. She became a dominant force as a sophomore, averaging 25 points, seven rebounds, five steals and four assists per game while helping South go 20-3 and moving up to second team all-state. At 6-foot-1, Pfirman could post up, but she could dribble like Sue Bird and shoot like Diana Taurasi, too, so whatever position South needed her at, that is where she played.
No matter what defense opponents threw at her, Pfirman could torch it. She scored 37 points and drained a game-winning buzzer-beater against Lewisburg and erupted for 35 points, 11 rebounds and four assists against HAC-II champion Loyalsock. Her legend was growing and Pfirman’s brilliance could turn opposing fans toward her.
Playing at St. John Neumann that year, Pfirman scored 21 first-half points in a convincing win and made her first nine shots. As the points piled up and Pfirman scored in every way imaginable, Neumann students started chanting, “MVP!, MVP!”
“I turned to one of our coaches and asked, ‘Has she missed yet?'” Neumann coach Steve Sholder said. “She’s a fantastic player. We tried different things, but we don’t have anybody who can match up with her.”
Nobody did. Pfirman went over 1,000 points as a sophomore and was even better the following year. She was constantly in pain that year, playing with a stress fracture in her leg, but nobody could tell. The injury eventually would end her season after 20 games, but not before Pfirman earned herself first team all-state honors, finishing as the runner-up for Player of the Year. Recording a double-double nearly every game, Pfirman averaged a District 4 decade-high 29.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, 6.2 steals and 4.6 assists per game as South went 17-3 with her in the lineup. So potent was Pfirman that she never scored fewer than 23 points in a game.
The previous summer Pfirman had competed in Philadelphia against some of the nation’s best players, often dominating and becoming a major Division I recruit. Her skills were even more lethal now and Pfirman topped 30 points 11 times, including in seven straight games at one point. She was on the national radar now and Frese, along with coaches from Vanderbilt and Florida, watched her score a then career-high 38 points, grab 13 rebounds and add four steals in a convincing win against Lewisburg.
“Over the summer at our first AAU game there were about 95 coaches there and it’s kind of like they’re just one of the fans. You don’t even notice they’re there,” Pfirman said that night. “You don’t want to notice or else you’re going to get your nerves up and your game is going to be off and that’s terrible so you just look at them as one of your No. 1 fans in the stands.”
Pfirman had countless fans by her senior year and again produced one of the best individual seasons in area history. The defensive pressure as well as the expectation of greatness only made Pfirman better as she averaged 27.7 points, 13 rebounds, 6.1 steals and 3.7 assists per game while making 56% of her shots.
That January another large South crowd came to watch Pfirman chase history as she went for 2,000 career points. Fittingly, she scored that 2,000th point at a critical moment in the fourth quarter, igniting a comeback and finishing with 27 points and 11 rebounds as South defeated Lewisburg, 48-45.
“We have a great following. Without them I don’t think I could do it because the gym was going wild tonight,” Pfirman said. “There’s a little more pressure trying to get it when all the fans come out and it’s expected to happen. As a freshman it was one of my big goals but I didn’t think I would get here.”
Pfirman kept going from there, breaking Jim Nolan’s all-time South scoring record and helping South win 21 games. Not only was Pfirman first team all-state again that year, but also a Nike All-American who played in its All-American game in Denver that March. Her career resume read like a Dickens novel as Pfirman finished with 2,309 points, 920 rebounds, 247 assists and 239 steals. Her place among the area’s all-time great athletes was complete.
“The most important thing is Tierney is extremely competitive,” Frese said. “When you’re competitive and a winner and you hate to lose that characteristic always stays with you. When tough times come she just focuses on doing whatever it takes to make herself better.”
“It’s all surreal right now,” Pfirman said. “Going Division I, getting the 2,000 points… It’s high school, I’m still a kid and hopefully in college I’ll look back and be like, ‘Wow that was a good high school career there.'”
Good is a vast understatement.
One of this reporter’s regrets about my first full season covering high school sports is that while watching Mazzante’s senior year unfold, I did not comprehend how truly amazing it was what she was doing. I knew she was one of the country’s top players, but I also did not realize how rare players like those are.
The upside to that is that by the time Pfirman came around, I fully understood how truly unique watching this artist on the basketball court was. It was awesome.
And so was Pfirman.