Firehawks make school history, head to State Championship tomorrow morning in Sacramento

Arielle Grossman leads Firehawks with 26 points to win CIF Southern Region Finals


BP Photo by Vivienne Schlussel

CHAMPS: Coach Ryan Coleman, along with Coach Andrew Schultz on the right, pose with the team in the Victory Christian gym in Chula Vista after defeating the Victory Christian Knights 62-52 on Tuesday, March 8.

By Noah Elad, Sports Editor

The Firehawk girls basketball team has made school and state history, winning the CIF Southern Region Championship and apparently becoming the first Jewish girls team to advance to the Div. V California state championship after defeating the Victory Christian Knights 62-52 on Tuesday, March 8. 

The Firehawks will face the San Domenico Panthers in the State Championship, who defeated the University Red Devils at the University of San Francisco 54-48 the same night. The Panthers are based in San Anselmo, just north of San Francisco. 

The championship game will take place this morning at the Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA Sacramento Kings. It will also be broadcast locally on Spectrum Sportsnet (not ESPN, as previously reported).

The State Championship is played between California’s Northern and Southern Region champions, the Firehawks representing the Southern in Division 5. At the start of the playoffs there were 31 teams from across California playing to reach the championship. Now it is down to two teams. 

No Jewish high school has reached this far into the state playoffs since at least 2005.  The Boiling Point surveyed CIF brackets for the last 17 years and found no Jewish high school in a state championship game. 

That means if the Firehawks win this morning, they would represent the first Jewish high school to win the California championship in at least 17 years.  And since there were fewer Jewish high schools then and even fewer with competitive basketball teams, it would probably be the first time ever. 

Approximately 115 Shalhevet fans made the trip to Chula Vista, more than three hours away, to cheer on the team.  Many came on a bus that brought students to the game from Shalhevet.

CELEBRATE: Coach Coleman holds up the Southern Regional Champions trophy as the Firehawks look to face the San Domenico Panthers in the State Championship tomorrow morning. (BP Photo by Vivienne Schlussel)

They watched a game that Shalhevet led almost the whole way through. Sophomore Arielle Grossman led the Firehawks with 26 points, including six three-pointers. She said the team had focused on following the game plan and tried their best to stay locked in throughout. 

“Ryan put in an insane game plan, and since Saturday night we have watched hours of film,” said Arielle. “We really prepared a lot for this game, and at the end of the day we had to listen to instructions and we had to play our game.” 

The pre-championship game was close from the start. In the first few seconds, Victory Christian’s Alysia Santos scored a three-pointer. But the Firehawks quickly responded and were able to take a 14-10 lead after the first quarter. 

The second quarter saw the highest scoring for both teams, with the Knights scoring 20 and the Firehawks 17 – even with Arielle Grossman forced to sit out the majority of the quarter being in early foul trouble.  She had two fouls and if a player hits five fouls they are ejected from the game. 

At the end of the half, Salma Youngblood, who plays guard on the Knights, scored a buzzer-beater three-pointer to bring the score to within two – 32-30 Firehawks lead. 

Shalhevet leapt ahead in the second half, but in the third quarter, they did lose the lead and were down 38-36 with 4:30 remaining in the quarter.

I don’t think it is really gonna hit any of us until the end. It’s crazy the opportunity we have been given and it really shows that all of our hard work is paying off.

— Arielle Grossman, Firehawks shooting guard

It didn’t last long, and they ended the third quarter with a more comfortable six-point lead, 48-42. 

In the fourth quarter, the Firehawks pulled further ahead, eventually leading by 11 points with 1:50 remaining. Arielle scored three three-pointers, and the Firehawks won 62-52.

Aside from Arielle’s 26 points, lead scorers for the Firehawks were sophomore Yalee Schwartz with 14 and senior Talia Tizabi with 13. 

A Los Angeles Times article this morning previewing the state championship games reported that Arielle scored 24 points. However, according to the official score sheet of the game, her game tally was 26. 

For the Knights, lead scorers were Tiana Sledge with 17, Salma Youngblood with 14 and Sophia Abella with nine. 

Looking ahead to tomorrow morning, Arielle said she feels like she is still processing everything going on, and the team is lucky to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

“I don’t think it is really gonna hit any of us until the end,” said Arielle. “It’s crazy the opportunity we have been given and it really shows that all of our hard work is paying off.”

She also said she has some nerves going into the game, especially since it will be televised and played in an NBA arena. 

“I didn’t really feel it last year,” said Arielle. “Due to Covid there wasn’t really a crowd… but then this year before Glouberman I freaked out. It was very overwhelming with the whole crowd.”