The Lahontan Valley News looks at the top sports stories of 2016, with Nos. 1-5 featured today. Nos. 6-10 were featured on Wednesday.
1. Stars align as Fallon wins first-ever wrestling title
Three months removed from the school’s first state football title in four decades, the Greenwave wrestling team followed suit.
After placing third in the regional tournament in Fallon, first-year coach Trevor de Braga’s squad needed to be close to perfect and count on its rivals faltering early in the state tournament. Fallon sent eight of its 10 wrestlers to the medal round and crowned four champions as the Greenwave won its first-ever team title. Spring Creek won the regional tournament and qualified 15 for state while second-place Lowry had 13 runners. But it didn’t matter.
Outgoing seniors Trae Workman (152 pounds) and Sam Goings (170), current junior Matt Goings (152) and freshman Sean McCormick (138) each captured titles as the Greenwave had the tournament won before the championship round.
“Knowing what Lowry and Spring Creek had, I wasn’t satisfied,” de Braga said about his team having a strong hold on the title heading into the finals. “I knew in the back of my mind that we had locked it up at that point. I had a good feeling and didn’t want to jinx it or let the kids overthink it. It’s an individual sport, and I’m about the kids first and then the team title.”
In addition to the four champions, current junior Mason Smith (113), senior Jack Swisher (145) and departed senior Juan Ledezma (182) took second, and senior Terry White (106) finished third.
“It’s something everybody has been talking about in my family that we never, ever won a state wrestling title,” Workman said after winning his second individual state title. “My dad always pushed for this in high school. I’ve kept it in my mind. It was definitely exciting coming back (to Fallon on Sunday) and showing them the trophy we won.”
2. Lady Wave tennis wins regular-season, regional crowns
Coach Jessica Nuckolls knew she had a team capable of great things last fall.
And she was right.
The Lady Wave tennis team went undefeated in the Northern 3A and also captured the regional team title along with crowning the region’s best singles player and doubles teams. Fallon picked up the No. 1 seed in the state tournament but couldn’t advance as the Vegas schools clashed for the state crown.
“This has been an exciting day. I’m very proud of the girls,” Nuckolls, a second-year coach, said after winning the regional title. “They really pulled it out. You have different ideas of how the game’s going to go. Even down to the end, I didn’t know how it will go. They have battled hard. Today, they proved why they are 10-0. A team (Truckee) this good, it’s a battle to the end. You can’t just go in thinking you’re going to win. It is a fight. We fought today and we fought hard.”
Nevertheless, Fallon’s senior-heavy team had its best season in program history.
Senior Melanie Nuckolls won the regional singles title and the senior duos of Izzy Martinez and Kayla Bekiares won the doubles title over teammates and seniors Lana Quint and Paola Duenas. No. 2 singles player and senior Sarah Inglis and Nuckolls rallied in the regional tournament to help Fallon win it in a tiebreaker over Truckee.
“I just kept telling myself that it’s 0-0 and to play each point like it’s my last point,” Inglis said. “It’s amazing. I’m very emotional but not in a bad way because we’re very happy. We’ve worked for four years to get to this point. It’s very rewarding.”
3. Skabelund sweeps long, triple jumps at state
Strong winds coming off the Sierras were not going to come between Whitney Skabelund and her season-long goal.
Skabelund saved her best for last, recording a career-best mark in the triple jump to win the state championship and followed with claiming the long jump for Fallon’s only gold medals in May. She leaped 37 feet, 6.25 inches to win the triple jump by almost 2 feet and leaped 16-11.75 to win the long jump in the Division I-A state championship meet at Carson High School.
“I didn’t hit the board once today and it was really stressing me out,” Skabelund said after winning the state titles. “I think because it was just morning and the foot that I injured wasn’t stretched out real good. I guess it worked in the end. I was hopeful. I like having people in front of me. It helps me jump farther. It pushes me especially when the girl ahead of me was beating me at the end.”
Skabelund missed a month because of injury but came back determined to fulfill her objective. She was the only jumper to win both the long and triple, regardless of division, and is Fallon’s first girl to win both since Rachel Sorensen in the 1990s.
“She came in determined to win the state title,” Fallon girls and jumps coach Paul Orong said. “I’m really excited that she jumped as well as she did. She deserved it and I’m proud.”
Skabelund, who finished her senior season of volleyball in the fall, recently signed a Division I offer to compete in track and field at Utah State.
4. Sweeney qualifies for Reebok CrossFit Games
Ex-Fallon grad Sean Sweeney has helped bring fitness awareness to Fallon thanks to CrossFit.
Sweeney, who served in the U.S. Navy, runs the local CrossFit gym west of town and has dedicated himself to the new fitness fad.
“I wish I had this when I was a kid,” Sweeney said in June. “I was a shrimp. I was a tiny. It was incredible. It was insane how little I was. I was super skinny and I wasn’t athletic.”
In May, Sweeney took fourth in the CrossFit regional and competed in the national games over the summer. Only 50 in the Southwest region qualified for the regional competition and the top four in Sweeney’s age group advanced to this national event. About 270,000 compete in CrossFit all over the world each year.
“My favorite part of CrossFit is (the) mental (aspect),” Sweeney said. “It’s not easy. I guarantee you that my legs hurt. It hurts as bad for me as it does everyone else. It’s how you handle it. It’s not easy for anybody. I am far away, far from being the most talented athlete. I was horrible. I used to sit in the outfield and eat grass. Nobody wanted me.”
Sweeney competed in the Texas regional in 2015 but didn’t qualify for the national event. The difference, he said, was the mental aspect. Along with his strict diet and dedication, Sweeney changed his stars in 2016.
“Even more important was the mental aspect of coming in and feeling like I was there, in contention, and I had every right and every chance to win it like everyone else there,” Sweeney added. “This year, I was there to kick some butt. I was in an entirely different mindset. That was the deciding factor with the confidence.”
5. Lady Wave basketball team dominates league, qualifies for state
Fallon possessed one of the best basketball teams in the region last year.
The Lady Wave owned the Northern 3A, winning the top seed for the regional tournament before losing to Lowry on a buzzer-beater in the championship. Although Fallon fell to Spring Valley in the state tournament, coach Anne Smith returned all but two seniors, including starter Megan McCormick.
“I said to them ‘If you’re crying, don’t cry because you just lost,” Smith said when asked what she told her players in the locker room after the game. “I felt like they played a heck of a 32 minutes. ‘Cry because it’s over, our time together. All the fun things that we do, all the memories that we create, cry that it’s over.’ That’s what I told them.”
The Otuafi cousins (Leilani and Leta, now sophomores) made their debut last season as Fallon was dominant throughout the year. Its fast-tempo offense and suffocating pressure and defense powered the Lady Wave to wins over multiple 4A schools, including Reed, McQueen and Damonte Ranch.
“McQueen, Damonte Ranch, Reed, those are good solid programs,” Smith said. “Something that I would aspire my program to be like someday. To be able to go and compete against those teams was very good and it gave the girls confidence in what we were doing and confidence in themselves, both individually and as a team.”