Tyrone grad assistant at top-ranked Hopewell

Mostly neglected in this area once we get to this time of each year, the PIAA state playoffs are going on along with the March Madness of the 65-team NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Particularly the scores are seen as far distant to most of us, unless one of our local teams is involved, and this year, none of the local offerings was able to win even one district playoff contest.
For at least one Tyrone grad, the basketball season is far from over and put away at this point. Sarah Grazier Kirk, a 1997 Tyrone Area grad and the all-time women’s career point leader for the Lady Eagles, is an assistant coach at Hopewell High School, which located in the WPIAL (District 7), outside of Pittsburgh. Kirk continued her education and basketball at two Division I schools after leaving Tyrone as a point guard capable of playing every position on the basketball court. Sarah had back-to-back 500-point scoring seasons in 1995-96 and 1996-97.
In her first year as assistant at Hopewell, following several seasons coaching in the Moon High School elementary program, Kirk has helped Hopewell to a number one ranking in Triple-A girls basketball, in several state rankings, going into today’s game against Mars High School at Duquesne University in a PIAA quarterfinal contest.
Hopewell (27-3) has gone from last to first in the past three seasons, making the turnaround from one of the worst teams in their WPIAL section three years ago, to winning the Section championship in 2005-06.
In a phone interview, Kirk reported that Hopewell has a height advantage over most of their opponents with a pair of 6-foot tall juniors, who are twin sisters, and a number of guards who according to Sarah are “not spectacular, but form a very solid group”. The team has only two seniors and hopes of a continued success in the future.
“One of the tall twin sisters already has a verbal agreement to play volleyball at Dayton University and both could probably play basketball on some Division I basketball team. They are nieces of former Dallas Cowboy tight end Jay Kovacek,” added Kirk.
Kirk, who is a pharmaceutical sales rep for Sanofi-Aventis, in addition to her duties as assistant coach, credits Tyrone high school coach Jim Swaney, who won his 250th career victory during last season.
“My coaches were Coach Swaney at Tyrone and then four different college coaches in five years,” explained Kirk, who started her college education at Rhode Island and graduated from Robert Morris. “He expected hard work, but was also quick to give a pat on the back. In motivation and just about any other area concerning the game of basketball and what I learned from him, nobody else compares.”
When questioned about how coaching was different than playing, Sarah was quick to point out that now she can’t do anything personally. “When I was on the court, I was able to take control of a situation,” said Kirk, “to be involved in the action. Now, I have to rely on the players, although in practice, I do get involved on the floor, playing and showing the girls what it is we want them to do, not just trying to explain in words.”
Sarah thinks the talent level is better now than when she was playing in high school and ventured some of the probable reasons why that has happened as she turns from one side of the bench to the other.
“There is a lot more attention paid to girls sports today,” said Kirk. “Female sports are getting a lot more press. I don’t know if this is just because we are closer to a big metropolitan area (Pittsburgh) or is a trend everywhere. More girls are playing sports than before. There is more media coverage, more scouts checking the talent out, more attention due to Title IX in college.”
The Hopewell High School girls will play Mars (21-6) at Duquesne at 5 p.m. today. Hopewell reached the quarterfinals by hammering Punxsutawney 56-26, while Mars downed Westinghouse 59-46.