Fallon took the league by surprise last year.
Under new coach Chelle Dalager, the Greenwave boys basketball team soared to a second-place finish in the league but was upset in its only playoff game, missing out on the state tournament.
“We did not have a great first quarter. As much as we prepared for how we are going to handle them, we just didn’t let that happen,” Dalager recalled. “Just experience in playoff situation is going to help us. The maturity in our kids and some growth in our kids are going to help us. Everyone had a vendetta, a chip, whatever you want to call it. They know they’re good enough to be there. This season is going to help them be where they want to be.”
Fallon graduated only one senior (Christian Nemeth) and most of last year’s team returns, including seniors Hayden Strasdin, Jace Harmon, Johnny Cooley and Trey Rooks. Also returning are juniors Brock Richardson, Thomas Steele and Elijah Jackson. New to the team are senior and Yerington transfer David Mcfalls, and sophomores Shaw Lee and Avery Strasdin.
“What makes us very successful is we’re really talented throughout our bench,” Dalager said.
Strasdin, standing at 6-feet-6, will play post this winter and Dalager said his leadership will be key. Harmon will be running the offense while Cooley’s a threat from long range and plays good defense. Rooks, who’s recovering from a football injury and will be back in four weeks, will give Dalager more depth inside.
“Hayden’s a good leader on the floor because he’s a team player. It’s his first season in the post. He’s taken that job,” Dalager said. “Jace knows the team very well and knows the Xs and Os and can run the offense. On our perimeter, we have Johnny, who’s just improved tremendously with his shooting. He should be a double-digit scorer. Defensively, he works really hard and he rebounds very well.”
Jackson’s a dynamic athlete regardless of sport. After leading Fallon to the state football championship, he’s back on the court trying to get the same outcome for his basketball teammates.
“Elijah is probably the player to watch in the league because he’s so explosive and he’s been on varsity for three years,” Dalager said. “We expect a bigger role for him. Everyone hates to play him and likes to have him on his team.”
Steele provides another big presence in the paint. Nicknamed “Big Country” because of his size and strength, Steele showed in last weekend’s Rail City Classic, which Fallon won, that he can outmuscle bigger defenders. Richardson’s lightning-quick speed will come in handy on defense.
Dalager said her three newcomers can make an immediate impact.
“David rebounds and defends and takes care of the ball very well. He runs fast. He fits good into our system,” she said. “Shaw’s work ethic is just unquestionable. He’ll be a big role player for us this year. Avery doesn’t look like he doesn’t belong out there at all. He can shoot the basketball. He’s a really good player and good addition to the squad.”
For this year’s group, all eyes are on reaching the state tournament for the first time since the 1970s. And Dalager’s hopeful that momentum from football championship last month will carry over. Jackson, Steele, Richardson, Lee and Avery Strasdin were on that team.
“Winning a state football championship built confidence that we can compete with kids in the north,” Dalager said. “We had some hard feelings from last year. Athletically, we can compete with anybody. Our goal is to beat Elko and not make it easy for them. They’re going to be one of the toughest teams to play. Lowry is going to be much better but we match up with them fine. After watching boys play against Heritage (in the Rail City championship game), I don’t think size give them a problem.”
The formula hasn’t changed from last season in order to be successful in this new chapter.
“For us to be competing for a state championship, we need to continue doing what we did last year in sharing the basketball and holding each other accountable,” said Dalager, who’s assisted by Darrell Erwin and Motulalo Otuafi. “This year, more so than ever, our goal is to knock off a team that’s been a seven-time regional champion. Senior leadership is obviously important. When they step on the floor, they just have to contribute and do their job.”
But Dalager needs her team to take it one game at a time and let everything else fall into place.
“We’re changing some stuff up to make us more effective. There’s a long season ahead of us,” she said. “You can’t look at state right now. You have to prepare them to be peaking at the right time. We were as good as we could get at that time. We can’t peak early and make sure we’re playing best basketball.”