RENO — Fallon girls’ basketball coach Anne Smith looked toward the stands after conducting one of many interviews after the Lady Wave’s championship win on Saturday for the 3A title.
Teary-eyed but smiling, Smith acknowledged the crowd again as more than a thousand fans cheered for the 25-3 Greenwave in winning it second consecutive state Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association championship, 60-45, over arch-rival Lowry at the Lawlor Events Center.
For the eighth consecutive time over two years, Fallon defeated Lowry and in back-to-back fashion at state, cruised past the Lady Buckaroos to become the top team in Nevada’s second largest conference. Furthermore, KOLO-TV’s Sports Caravan named the Lady Wave the top Northern Nevada girls’ basketball team, which also included schools from the region’s 4A league.
Hundreds of fans also lined the streets to greet the state champions later that day with an escort along U.S. Highway 50 into Churchill County High School. Law enforcement officers, firefighters and their engines and ambulance paramedics from Banner Churchill Community Hospital provided the lights and sirens for the Lady Wave’s parade.
“Our goal was to win the quarter,” Smith said. “That was no matter what the scoreboard said. That was our short-termed goal, and we did that.”
As with the Virgin Valley game the night before, Fallon encountered two fired-up opponents trying to upset the defending state champions. Lowry, was different, though.
During the past two seasons, both Fallon and Lowry developed such a tight bond that very few secrets remained between the two Northern 3A girls’ basketball teams.
Yet, the Lady Wave’s astute familiarity paid off again as the Lady Wave pulled away at halftime for the win. During the regular season, Fallon swept the series, and then rolled over the Lady Bucks 66-40 in the Northern 3A Regional championship at Elko.
Junior Leta Otuafi, the team’s floor leader, said the Lady Wave worked hard to repeat as champs.
“I felt like we worked hard for this, and I am glad we could experience this,” she said.
The Lady Wave struggled with turnovers and missed shots in the first quarter Saturday, leading by only 1 point, 11-10, going into the second quarter. Coach Anne Smith said her team was tight and cautious, but as the game progressed, the girls fell into their rhythm of stingy defense and running the floor with its fast breaks and patience in setting up the offense.
“We talked about that before the game and of some of the adjustments we would make,” she pointed out.
Fallon’s aggressive defense stifled the Lady Bucks from the opening tipoff, but turnovers from both teams slowed any momentum. The Wave grabbed an early 7-5 lead, but it slowly dissolved when the Bucks scored the next two points after Kepa Bengochea tied the score on a layup, and Fallon fouled Sydney Connors who drove the baseline for a layup and then sunk a free throw for a 10-7 Lowry lead.
Fallon responded with the next four points, a layup form Kaitlyn Hunter and the go-ahead basket on a putback from junior Chandler McAlexander.
Both teams struggled to find their range for the first 2 minutes of the second quarter until Otuafi ignited the Wave. Although she missed a one-handed layup due to being fouled, she calmly walked to the free throw line and sunk a pair of baskets. The Fallon junior, who had the game of her career by scoring 30 points, followed up with two layups within a minute to put Fallon on top 16-10.
As time expired before halftime, Connors launched a long shot beyond the 3-point line that swished the net to slice Fallon’s lead to 27-23.
“Lowry worked us in the first half,” said Faith Cornmesser, one of five seniors on the team. “They’re a really tough team, and we’ve always had a tough rivalry with them. They will always push us, but we have to come out with the same attitude.”
Fallon entered the third quarter more aggressively and relied on key rebounding from Cornmesser and Otuafi. Both teams’ grit under the basket led to an action-packed third quarter, but Fallon gradually pulled away.
“We discussed it and stressed it at halftime,” Smith said. “They did a good job.”
With Fallon’s tandem hitting the boards, and Otuafi blistering the nets for 11 points including a trey, the Wave outscored Lowry 17-11 in the third period although the visitors came within a point after Connors slipped in a left-handed shot.
Yet, it was Fallon’s determination to win the battle under the net that kept Lowry from taking the lead. Cornmesser plugged the middle, while Otuafi and cousin Leilani Otuafi fought for loose balls and boxed out the Lady Bucks. Fallon, then hit its stride by going on a 7-0 run.
“It was determination,” Leta Otuafi said. “We wanted to make sure our hard work paid off. We didn’t want it to end here.”
The Wave kept increasing its lead with a basket from Madison Whitaker and Kaitlyn Hunter. Fallon then outshot Lowry 16-11 in the fourth quarter on a pair of 3 pointers from Leta Otuafi and Caitlyn Welch.
“Lowry stepped up,” Leta Otuafi said “They’re always a good competitor, and they always bring it to us. Our whole presence with each other is we picked up each other. It just wasn’t one person … we picked up each other.”
Hunter added two free throws, and Cornmesser added a right-baseline layup to finish the game with 8 points.
Cornmesser said the coach’s game plan worked well with the Fallon senior working under the basket, and the guards taking care of business on the outside.
“Coach put us in positions she knew that would be best for us,” Cornmesser said.
Lowry tried to penetrate the Greenwave’s defense but had to settle for seven free throws off fouls because of the swarming defense. Connors, who had two free throws, led Lowry with a game-high 12 points.
As a team, Fallon sunk 12 of 16 shots from the free-throw line. Hunter had 6 points, while Welch added 5, McAlexander scored 4 and Whitaker with 3. Alexis Jarrett and Leilani Otuafi each scored a basket.
Besides Cornmesser, Fallon will lose four other seniors: Hunter, Welch, Hannah Hitchcock and Hannah Evans.
Leta Otuafi said the team is a family.
“I love everyone. Love all the girls and all the good times,” she said.
Cornmesser agreed: “It’s sad we have to all go. We love our team. It’s been the same group of girls, but we know the team will be in good hands and continue on. It’s a tradition we have left.”