With her team struggling to break free from Boulder City in the 2019 state semifinals in Las Vegas, a new hero emerged on the floor.
Makenzee Moretto, who spent most of her time coming off the bench during her first season with the Lady Wave basketball program, came on fire in the final quarter of the state semifinal game, scoring six points, including the game’s final bucket. Her scoring burst helped Fallon win its third-straight state championship.
That glimpse of stardom for Moretto helped the multi-sport student-athlete rise during her senior year for Kevin Wickware, who took over for Anne Smith this past season. Despite the team not returning to the state tournament for the first time in four years, Moretto came on strong in the second half of the season, battling toe-to-toe with the best team in the league (Fernley) and helping Fallon score its biggest upset of the year in defeating Lowry.
“We had lost all but about four returners to varsity. I wanted to be a leader on and off the court and show my teammates the right things to do,” Moretto said. “I would come to practice every day and show up ready to play and work my hardest to be a better player no matter the circumstances.”
Moretto’s work ethic earned her the distinction of being a blue-collar athlete among her peers. The attitude of going after every loose ball and not giving up on any play is what led her to Butte College, a two-year school near Redding, Calif.
“She’s going to have to keep working on overall basketball skills. She has the tools necessary to be successful,” Wickware said of Moretto’s outlook in college. “She outworks everybody. She’s coachable and has great character. Now, it’s going to be fun watching her apply that. She’s always been three-sport athlete for Fallon and it’s going to be fun watching her skill level jump through the roof.”
When she was setting volleyballs or diving in the outfield, Moretto was in the gym. It’s those lonely hours, as coaches refer to, that separate those players who want to play sports past high school. Moretto said the Otuafi cousins, Leilani and Leta, helped drive her two years ago. Leilani Otuafi completed her first season at BYU while Leta Otuafi became an All-American at Utah State-Eastern and will dress up for the Wolf Pack this season.
“I was new to varsity and not only were they good ball players, they took control of the team and they were leaders,” Moretto said of the Otuafis. “I would pair myself up with Lani at practice to become a better player. To this day, I still look up to them because they both went to the next level and that is something that I am doing as well.”
Wickware, who coached Moretto during her freshman and sophomore years, knew what player to expect in his first season at the helm of the varsity program. Toward the end of this past season, both Wickware and Moretto discussed options, leading Wickware to post game highlights online to see which colleges would bite. There were quite a few responses varying from junior college to NAIA and a couple NCAA Division II and III schools.
But Butte is where Moretto found the best fit.
“The first time I visited the school, I knew it was the place for me,” said Moretto, who visited before COVID-19 took over the country. “The coaches were very welcoming, and the gym and facilities were phenomenal. It was also not too far from home, which my dad was very ecstatic about. I actually got the chance to watch one of their games live and I loved the fast pace of the game and the coaching.”
The goal is simple for Moretto once she steps on the Northern California campus: continue to work hard on and off the court and transfer to a four-year school to continue playing basketball.
And Wickware believes she will have plenty of options, including Division I.
“She’s the one person I wouldn’t say she has no chance at D1,” he said. “When she applies herself, there’s no stopping her. D2 and D3 are definitely in the cards.”
With or without basketball, though, Moretto envisions being in the classroom when her college chapter is complete. After volunteering as an aid in a fifth-grade classroom, Moretto realized that she wants to become an elementary school teamer.
“It is so amazing to watch them grow and learn new things,” Moretto said. “I have chosen this career path because children inspire me, and I love being around them. They are our future and teaching them the rights and wrongs is something I would absolutely love to do.”
For now, though, Moretto continues to inspire because of her work ethic producing results and showing that there’s one more from the state championship team who can make the same splash on the collegiate stage.