Everyone was gunning for them all season and not once did they back down.
Anne Smith, who guided the Lady Wave basketball team to a second state title on Saturday, was named both the 3A region and state Coach of the Year as Fallon led the league with five selections. Senior Caitlyn Welch and junior cousins Leta and Leilani Otuafi were named to the league’s first team, senior Faith Cornmesser was named to the second team and senior Kaitlyn Hunter was honorable mention. Welch, also the league’s MVP, and Leta Otuafi, who scored a game-high 30 points in the state title game over Lowry, were named to the state’s first team and Leilani Otuafi was named to the second team.
“Our league had really good players. It was harder to get first team or second team,” Smith said.
Lowry was second with four selections, including Sydney Connors and Alyssa Kuskie (first team), and Fernley, Spring Creek and Elko each had three. Fernley’s Haylee Edgar and Spring Creek’s Jasmine Yadeskie were named to the first team. Kuskie was also named to the state’s first team and Edgar, Yadeskie and Connors were selected to the second team.
“I really did feel like I had three really good prospects to be MVP,” Smith said. “When teams prepare for us, they prepare for Lani and Leta. With Caitlyn, that opened her game up. Thankfully, she was good enough to respond. A lot of times you have good players who get shut down and they don’t have the supporting cast. Caitlyn rose to the occasion. She did her job and she did it great. She hurt a lot of teams offensively who weren’t prepared for what she was going to do.”
Known for their full-court pressure, Smith’s Lady Wave returned stronger after notching the school’s first sanctioned state title last season in Las Vegas. In the last three seasons, Fallon has not lost a league game (48-0) and has outscored its opponents 2,686-1,172. The last time Fallon lost to a 3A team was in the 2016 state tournament.
Welch led the team and was fourth in the league in scoring and was the catalyst with Fallon’s suffocating defense. The senior guard averaged 11.4 points, 2.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 4.0 steals per game.
“This season was great for me, knowing that all my hard work playing at the local gym almost every day has finally paid off,” she said. “I never thought I would have gotten that honor but I worked my butt off and pushed myself to be the best I could be, not only physically but mentally. This year, I believed in myself, which I lacked on in the past years.”
Her state-leading 101 steals in the season were 29 better than the next Northern 3A player and more than doubled the best player from the south.
“She picks people’s pockets. She’s a great defender,” Smith added.
The Otuafi cousins, who treat each other and are viewed more like sisters, gave Smith an arsenal of weapons. Leilani Otuafi, who hurt the opposition with her mid-to-long-range shooting, was second on the team and fifth in the league in scoring with 11.3 points per game to go with 2.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.6 rebounds per game. Leta Otuafi was a force in the key and didn’t shy from converting from deep, either, as she averaged 9.9 points, 2.1 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game.
“Both of them, both nights, just really played their game. It was fun to watch,” Smith said of the Otuafis during the state tournament. “They did exactly what you ask them to do. They just have a sense that you can’t teach kids. It just comes from playing hours of basketball. That’s what they do. It’s a year-round sport. They know what to do. It’s fun to watch. They really know how to read their defender.”
Cornmesser, who missed the volleyball season and opening basketball tournament, was the go-to when teams double-teamed Leta Otuafi. Cornmesser averaged 7.1 points, 0.6 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Cornmesser’s 167 total rebounds led the team and were third-best in the league.
Her rebounding stood out the most to Smith, even having the coach debate whether Fallon would have defeated 4A regional champ Reno in the second game of the year.
“She’s as tough as anybody I’ve ever coached,” Smith said. “I’ve never quite seen a rebounder like her. She knows how to rebound. She loves it. She knows how to rebound. She always seems to be there. She has a nose for rebounding. Thank goodness we got her back. I often think if we would have beaten Reno if we had her. She’s a big part of our team and a hard one to replace. She’s so tough underneath with the boards.”
Hunter’s body of work didn’t show reflect in the statistics like her peers but it was her toughness and grittiness that drove others to succeed. Hunter averaged 3.8 points, 1.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. She led the team in rebounding against Virgin Valley in the state semifinal win.
“She understood what her role was,” Smith said. “She seemed to be everywhere, causing chaos. She was OK not being the star. It didn’t affect how she worked. She just played and was tough.”