Nevada’s 3A coach of the year steps down

Coach Anne Smith gives Kaitlyn Hunter a hug after she came out of the 2018 state championship game.

Coach Anne Smith gives Kaitlyn Hunter a hug after she came out of the 2018 state championship game.

After the Lady Wave won their first state basketball title since the golden years of the 1920s two years ago in Las Vegas, senior guard Zoey Swisher found her mother for one of those memorable moments.

Both hugged and faced each other, their faces showing the excitement of Fallon’s first of three state 3A titles under Churchill County High School coach Anne Smith.

“I just remember her (Smith) reminding us that a state title was possible and within reach, but we had to do a lot of work to get there,” said Swisher, who was a senior at the time. “Without her leading the way, we wouldn’t have gotten there, and I don’t think she allows herself that much credit even though she deserves it.”

After a stellar coaching career — albeit less than a decade — Smith is stepping down after nine years in the program, the first season as an assistant. She leaves with a 101-14 conference record, 164-52 overall with four state and eight regional appearances. She spent one year as an assistant to Chelle Dalager, now the boys’ varsity coach. She has also coached cross country and junior varsity basketball.

First hired as a health teacher in 1998 for both the middle and high schools, Smith leaves a legacy that may eventually award her a coveted spot in both the Greenwave and Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association halls of fame.

“It was a dream to go out on top. It was time,” Smith said in a recent interview with the Lahontan Valley News. “It’s hard.”

Over the years, the Oakley, Idaho, native and Boise State University graduate has molded many players, not only for them to be successful on the court but also for them to be model individuals. Yet, with all her success, something was devoid in Smith’s own personal life.

“I’m missing out with my own children,” she said. “I felt like I need to be there for them.”

Coaching and parenting became a balancing act for Smith, who has daughters in the seventh and ninth grades, yet her memories of her teams and players will also resonate with Smith for the days ahead. They have with Swisher.

“Playing for her was something no one should take for granted because once you left that program (because you had to graduate) you were a better person,” Swisher said. “She was way more than a coach. She was a second mom and a role model. Leaving CCHS with a state title was great, but being able to give a state title to coach Smith was even better.”

Smith said the last eight years have been tough because she was the type of person who gave 110 percent — plus much more — into what she did. For Smith, though, she gives the credit to her players, beginning with the first group she coached to the final one that fought through a tough season culminating with a state trophy in early March.

Fallon had its first taste of the state tournament under Smith in 2016. After completing an undefeated season in the Northern 3A, Lowry upset the Lady Wave on a last-second shot for the regional title. Fallon struggled in the state championship at the Reno High School gym as the defending Nevada state champions, the Spring Valley Grizzlies, defeated the Lady Wave, 64-52.

The Lady Wave’s first chance at a state title in six seasons ended at 26-2 overall and 16-0 in Northern Division I-A. Smith earned Coach of the Year honors and players from the Wave’s starting five made both All-State and All-Northern teams. For her success, Smith earned three state 3A Nevada State Coach of the Year and three division coach of the year honors.

Fallon’s record dominated the 3A during its title run. The last time Fallon lost a league game came during the 2014-2015 season when the Wave had a 15-10 overall record and 12-4 in league. After 2016-2017, the Wave finished 26-3 and 16-0 in the Northern 3A. After state in 2018, Fallon was 25-3 overall, 16-0 in league. Fallon advanced to the postseason playoffs eight consecutive years.

Megan McCormick, who plays softball at Carroll College, in Helena, Montana, said Smith was a mentor as well as a coach.

“The things I remember most about playing for her had nothing to do with basketball, but about life,” McCormick recalled. “I will also remember going through the best of in ‘each state articles’ on MSN, and we would pick and choose which states we wanted to visit based on those articles.”

During the past three seasons, the taste of success from 2016 carried over to the team. She said the teams were close, almost like family. The team dynamics excelled as the players blended in with each other.

“The last three years have been a lot of fun,” Smith said. “It’s just been great to work with the girls. They were dedicated and driven and wanted to win.”

Cousins Leilani and Leta Otuafi said they enjoyed playing for Smith. Both players will continue their career at the next level, Leilani at Brigham Young University and Leta at Utah State Eastern in Price.

“She is a great woman and knows a lot of about basketball,” Leilani said. “Just for the years I played for her, I learned so much from her not as a basketball player but as a person.”

Leta agreed.

“Honesty there’s no other person I would want to play for,” she said. “I love her as a coach and especially as a person. She has also helped me a grow as a player and more as a person.”

Both seniors said Smith can still contribute to high-school sports in the future, mentioning she would be a good golf coach.

“She loves golf,” Leilani added.

Smith has also had a good group of assistant coaches to include Keith Lund, Kevin Lords, Nate Waite, Dan Combo and Troy Myers. Lund, who assisted Smith during the most recent run and has been on her staff for years, also decided to step down. Smith said she was blessed to have outstanding assistant coaches.

“Anne is a great coach but a better person,” said Lords, who previously served as high school principal but is now the school district’s human resource director. “ She worked hard preparing her teams to compete and by doing so her girls were well prepared and successful. She was always open to suggestions and tried to keep learning even when it was her players that were making those suggestions. It was an honor to be part of her coaching staff but a bigger honor to be her friend. I saw girls learn and grow from her. She truly earned the title ‘Coach.’”

During the past season, the level of competition improved in the Northern 3A and more teams rose for the challenge to play the Lady Wave. She said success produces more stress, thus causing her to spend additional time watching video of the games and opponents.

“I think I was so concerned the team was prepared,” she said. “I didn’t slow down and take it in.”

Smith broke down the last three championships to feelings. She said the first one to win was hard, and it didn’t seem possible to win the state title. The second was a repeat of the first title.

“We know we could win because we did it the year before,” she said.

Ironically, the third may have been harder to achieve than the first.

Instead of losing only one or two girls, Smith lost six seniors from the 2017-18 team. With a newly meshed squad, Smith said other coaches discovered the team’s weaknesses and also their girls “played above their heads” to dethrone the current 3A champs. Because she had a younger team, Smith said the players tended to commit more mistakes.

“I felt like we were our own worst enemies, but on the bright said, we came from behind in the Fernley game,” she said.

Fernley jumped on the two-time defending state champs – and led by as many as 13 points – before the Wave escaped with a 63-51 home win.

It turned out to be a good wakeup call. Fallon raced through the rest of the league, compiling a 17-0 record in league and 26-2 overall. Moapa Valley proved to be a tougher opponent at state, but Fallon prevailed with its closest championship win, 45-42, during the Smith tenure.

Smith, though, continually gave the credit to her players and assistant coaches. But she also had a list of those who had a role in supporting team. She thanked the city, Mayor Ken Tedford, parents who believed in her and fellow coaches, a small group that developed camaraderie among themselves.

First and foremost, though, Smith credits her father for instilling a love in basketball, Douglas High School coach Werner Christen for being a mentor and for Dalager for her guidance and support.

Yet, it’s the players who credit Smith for her support and mentoring and for being a good role model. McCormick calls it strength.

“Something coach taught me that stuck was the idea that everything you face in life — whether good or bad — is just another brick you add to your wall that makes you a stronger women.”


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