Establishing itself as the top softball program in the state hasn’t come easy for the Lady Wave.
But after winning its third state championship in four years, Fallon is starting to flirt with a term seldom used in sports: dynasty. Only Fernley has prevented Fallon from going 4-for-4 in state championships since the 2011 season and the Vaqueros, as well as Lowry, are poised to stand in the way once again this season.
“We faced each other seven times last year,” third-year coach Bill Archer said of the team’s rivalry with Fernley. “When you play someone seven times, I don’t care who it is; things are going to get escalated and people step up for those games. Like I’ve said in the past, us and Fernley kind of feed off each other and prepping for the regionals.”
While Fallon returns all but one starter for the 2015 campaign, it will have a big void to fill.
The team’s workhouse in the circle and most consistent and powerful hitter, Rileigh Ricken, graduated last spring and is playing on the collegiate level. But while Archer recognizes the void, he feels confident that the team will be able to make up for the loss.
“I don’t think that you lose a pitcher like Rileigh and don’t lose those effects,” Archer said. “It’s not like we have a senior pitcher in the lineup. Am I confident those that those two juniors will step up and fill the shoes of Rileigh? I think so.”
Fallon returns two pitchers — junior Miranda Ford and sophomore Kayla Buckmaster — and welcomes Alecia Baze, a junior who played junior varsity the last two seasons.
Ford saw extensive time in the circle two years ago as a freshman and Buckmaster was the No. 2 starter last year behind Ricken. Both will also see time at first base.
“Buck, she’s got some pop on her pitches, the same with Miranda,” Archer said. “They have similar styles. It’s way too early to see until we have our first scrimmage or game. We have an idea from when Buck and Miranda pitched last year. As far as them being ahead from last year and with the improvements, time will tell where we’re at.”
With Baze, Archer sees a similar style to Jill Pinder, who helped Fallon win its first two championships by relying more on finesse and location.
“She put in a lot of work. In the offseason, she was working with Jodie Dolan up in Reno,” Archer said of Baze. “She was using her legs more to get velocity in her pitches. She’s going to be like Jill was and be a location pitcher. She’ll keep you off balance.”
All three will compete for the No. 1 starting position and will get a good opportunity in next weekend’s Elk Grove Tournament in California before league play begins in two weeks.
“To tell you the truth, we don’t know who the No. 1 is,” Archer said. “It can be any one of those three and they’re being challenged for that. They accepted that. They’re coming in early to workouts. They’re committed to get us back to the playoffs and a chance to win state.”
Another void to fill will be the pitching coach where Stacey McNair occupied that position since graduating in 2003. She did not return this season but Archer will have assistant Brad Dolan, and JV coaches Richard Smith and Tami Shemenski on hand.
“She (McNair) decided to hang up her cleats and finished on a high note,” Archer said. “As far as the coaching staff, she’ll be truly missed as the pitching coach. She’s a huge part of this team in the formula for the success that we had.”
With Archer focusing on who will step up to fill Ricken’s shoes, the rest of the picture looks promising.
Fallon was one of the most consistent hitting teams in the league and defense looks to be the strongest facet of the team.
“We’re a type of team that we’re big on defense,” he said. “We believe defense is important. Out of the three facets of the game, defense is most important. The proficient hitters executing the offense and all the little things that come with softball; those are things we’ll be working on the next two weeks.”
The team’s lone senior, Ali Tedford, returns at shortstop while junior Megan McCormick returns behind the plate and will rotate with sophomore Ashlie Alvarez. McCormick will also see time at third base.
Juniors Izzy Thomas (outfield), Nicole Mariezcurrena (utility, outfield), Courtney Cross (outfield), Kalyn Huckaby (third, first) and Paige Thorn (outfield) return from last year’s state championship team. Junior Savannah Whitaker spent most of last year on JV before coming up to varsity at the end of the season.
Sophomore Hannah Frank returns at second while freshman Caitlyn Welch will see time in the infield.
“We know the players and what they’re capable of and their experience,” Archer said. “In this game, it changes from season to season, just like it does with the other teams. We’re optimistically confident.”
Although the team looks rusty, Archer likes the makeup of this year’s squad and was encouraged when the team found an alternative to Saturday’s cancelled scrimmages due to weather. He said the team participated in indoor workouts for more than two hours.
“Virtually the whole team was there for workouts. It wasn’t mandatory,” Archer said.