Dalagar’s rise to the top begins with family
One by one, Dalager breaks down barriers to succeed on and off the court
Chelle Dalager is a minority among boys basketball coaches.
She’s also a minority among women.
The Montana native who moved to Fallon more than 20 years ago, though, doesn’t like to view herself as a minority. Yes, she became the first woman head coach in Nevada of a varsity boys basketball team. And yes, she’s in a strong and committed relationship to Tricia Strasdin, her partner of almost 11 years, raising two sons, Hayden and Avery.
But this is not what defines Dalager. Instead, she wants to influence those around her to become better people on the basketball court, in the weight room, in the classroom and more importantly, outside of school as they venture into the world.
“We’re supposed to just love people equally. We’re supposed to love them right where they’re at in their life,” Dalager said. “That’s the lessons I teach my kids who play for me. You’re going to be a father someday and you need to be better men. I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by good parents and kids. The staff I’ve worked with is awesome. I’ve been very fortunate to have good people, even down to my managers. One of my girls said we’ve never been treated like this as a manager. I told them they’re part of the team. We take care of everybody.”
Since making history that season when she became the first woman to coach a varsity high school boys basketball team in Nevada, Dalager has broken down barrier after barrier while building solid relationships with her team and peers. Her Greenwave cagers have won the last two 3A state championships and two of the last three 3A state academic championships, proving that a woman is more than capable of leading a boys team.
“Being the only female to be coaching a boys basketball team is a huge breakthrough in the sport. I’m not sure many thought it would work. She has proven that gender doesn’t matter,” said Tony Erquiaga, who covers the Lowry Buckaroos for the Humboldt Sun.
As much as those championships put Fallon back on the map in boys basketball, it wasn’t the only thing that defined the program Dalager rebuilt in such a short time. Dalager put her players first. They were the future, and it was her job to help them succeed on and off the court. Color and gender never mattered. Only the person’s character.
Last month, Dalager was named a Top 40 finalist for the Influential Women of the Sierra Nevada award. Although she didn’t finish in the top 10, Dalager was awarded the trailblazing award for her impact in the region.
“She is a trailblazer. She’s obviously doing great things in a male-dominated field,” Strasdin said. “She does humbly accept that responsibility to leave a positive impact wherever she’s going. That would be the definition of an influential person. She loves basketball. I’m glad they’re bringing light to that. There are extremely gifted women in basketball who can make a difference or who are making a difference.”
The community embraced her when she became the coach of the girls program more than 20 years ago. But in her three years at the helm of the boys program, Dalager’s impact can be felt outside of the Lahontan Valley. From making lasting impressions with her colleagues to building relationships with her players and their families, Dalager’s blueprint to success continues to open eyes and create paths for others to follow.
Family before everything
Before the team is selected, before practices and before classes, it all starts at home.
Chelle has always been a firm believer that the true root of success comes from home. The support of family is tremendous, especially for this barrier buster.
While Chelle’s pacing up and down the sideline in front of the team bench, Tricia is sitting at the scoring table, meticulously jotting down every made basket and missed free throw. By way of their decade-plus relationship, Tricia’s also made an impact with the boys program, offering insight and advice. The last three years, especially, Tricia’s been her partner’s soundboard.
“We can talk about a lot of things. I try to do my best work for the team,” Tricia said.
Off the court, though, Chelle’s made the biggest impact with the Strasdin family. She’s helped watch Hayden and Avery grow into successful student-athletes with both ranking high in their class academically. But as impactful as she has been with the community’s youth, including her own, she’s helped Tricia accomplish goals she didn’t think were possible, like finishing her college education. Chelle is always striving to exceed goals and her focus on academics holds all around her to their highest ability.
“Chelle came into our lives when we really needed her,” Tricia said. “It’s just a real special experience for our family to see all of that work pay off and to be able to bring some positive attention to our community and for us to feel like you’re headed in the right direction. You get to see those positive impacts. She’s been able to do that. It’s been quite special to hear that.”
The support is a two-way street between Chelle and Tricia. Credit Tricia for pushing Chelle into breaking the barrier in becoming the state’s first woman to lead a varsity boys basketball team. And it didn’t hurt that she would be coaching Hayden and Avery, who both got to share a state title during Hayden’s senior season in 2019.
“I felt like that was my way to help them become better athletes. It just created memories for them as they were active in youth,” Chelle said. “Tricia is a rock and is amazing. She expects nothing but the best from the boys academically. I’m proud of their accomplishments.”
And then there have been the conversations explaining their relationship to their sons and families. Chelle said Tricia’s approach centered around honesty and having as many conversations as necessary. The bottom line: the four of them were a family and no different than anyone else.
“My job wasn’t to take the place of their father,” Chelle said. “I was going to be another person who loved them. (The transition) was really smooth. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous, but it went great.”
With Tricia being on the school board, her family needed to be prepared to answer questions, but the key was to respond consistently and be respectful.
“We were worried about that on lots of levels,” Tricia said. “When you’re in an elected position, you’re a little more open for discussion. You put yourself out there and chose to be there. You’re not living in the closet. We’ve had conversations about that. Chelle’s always reminded me that we need to be consistent and we just need to be welcoming and respectful. All relationships are investments, and there’s a return on the investment. She’s never wanted to make our lifestyle an issue. She’s never wanted to make that a topic of discussion. She wants to be a good role model regardless.”
And becoming a good role model starts with a strong work ethic, which Chelle instills with her teams and especially her sons. Her attitude about life and honesty only strengthened their family.
It has been their shared goal that the work their sons see put in every day will make them better men. In addition to Tricia completing her degree while raising a family, Chelle’s been in the shop during her downtime, crafting the next cornhole board masterpiece to raise funds for her program.
“They’re very resilient young men watching Tricia go through school – it took eight years to get her degree – and I feel like they’ve watched me work a lot for fundraising. I’m in the shop a lot,” Chelle said. “They recognize that being hard workers is just part of life.”
Chelle and Tricia working together to achieve their goals in life is nothing short of inspiring, making their home team unbreakable.
From Montana to Washington to Fallon
Born in Montana, Dalager moved to Washington state where she grew up and played high school basketball for Pat Ward.
Ward’s teams reminded Dalager of Fallon when the Greenwave competed in the state’s largest class. During her junior year, they made it to the state tournament for the first time in 30 years. He never hollered during a game, staying calm, as his wife maintained the team’s scorebook.
“He always had an inspiration quote that he would put up before practice,” she said. “He was a hands-on coach during practice. He had lots of energy and was really kind.”
Many years have passed since Dalager played for Ward, but he hasn’t missed a step in following his pupil’s path to success. He watched her play college basketball and then witnessed one of her Lady Wave teams in action.
After one of her games in Fallon, Dalager found a note written on her Jeep – just like one of his inspirational quotes before her high school practices.
“He would always leave us handwritten notes. They’re just really cool people,” she said. “It’s neat they’d take the time to travel and be part of what’s going on.”
Dalager’s big break came in 1998 when she was named the girls head coach. During her 13-year career guiding the Lady Wave, Fallon made the state tournament once in the 4A in 2003 – the only appearance in school history – before leading the program to the state tournament in 2011.
After she retired from coaching the girls program, Dalager took a year off and was back at it, this time with the boys teams. From rez ball to AAU to middle school at both Oasis Academy and Churchill County schools, Dalager worked her way from the ground up while coaching her two sons. She credits Tommy Thomson, who ran the youth program, for his help in getting her new career started as she created her own team with her youngest son’s age group because they were in the stands watching their siblings play. After Thomson left coaching the junior varsity boys team, Dalager took over and at one point, she was coaching seven teams.
Because of the familiarity with Dalager running the boys teams during their youth, nothing seemed unordinary when she took over the high school program. Outside of the program, though, Dalager prepared her team.
“When I first got the head job, I told the boys it would be a little different,” she said. “Everyone would have their eyes on us. We had an official come up to (assistant coach) Lalo (Otuafi) introduce himself. We had other coaches walk around to Lalo. The tournament directors have asked the boys where your head coach was, and they would tell them that she’s sitting right here.”
While these stories make her laugh now, they were also a sign of the barrier that she broke.
The community continued to embrace Dalager and her program, especially with the city of Fallon’s unwavering support.
Billed as the game of the year, the city of Fallon wasted no time in promoting a whiteout.
First place was on the line in 2019. Elko and its busses of students, band and players were on their way to Fallon for a Friday night showdown in the valley. Mayor Ken Tedford and his staff provided T-shirts as they helped pump up the key rivalry game between the league’s most consistent team in the past decade and Dalager’s cagers who were hoping to spur the upset.
“I want it to be an advantage for Fallon when they come here with whatever sport we can help them with,” Tedford said about the city’s efforts to support the county’s schools. “Kids are very important to me because the more you can encourage them and help change their lives and make them matter, they’ll know how to do it for the next generation when we’re gone. They’re going to have parades at 2 in the morning and go through neighborhoods. We just want to be different here.”
The upset didn’t happen that night, nor the next time the two teams met in the regional championship. But Fallon got the best of Elko in their fourth meeting – the one that mattered the most – when the Greenwave upset the Indians on Elijah Jackson’s electric, buzzer-beating game-winner in overtime at The Orleans in Las Vegas.
Tedford wasn’t surprised because he knew what Dalager had become: a coach with great leadership and whom her players admired and respected.
“With Chelle, you’re not just going through the numbers. You have to believe in what she does,” Tedford said. “It’s not just important in basketball, but what you do in life. Those qualities are very important: discipline and passion for what you do and strive to get the very best out of what you have. She’s gotten that from out of those young people she’s been around. So many times, you find in this world when people do enough, they’re not the very best. Chelle’s really embedded in those young people that you have to strive to do the very best. That’s the great thing about extracurriculars is they make kids try to do better. That’s why they’re so very important in junior and high school life, and elementary. it’s a learning tool. Chelle’s taken advantage of that with the kids. That’s what leaders do.”
A leader among men
Three years ago, the officiating crew walked up to the Fallon bench, saw a towering figure and introduced themselves to the head coach.
Except he wasn’t the head coach.
Lalo Otuafi quickly redirected the officials to a woman standing beside them.
“She’s the head coach,” he said.
Since then, Dalager’s made a name for herself as a head coach but it didn’t stop there. It was only getting started.
Otuafi joked with Dalager that she has the most diverse coaching staff, which also included Brandon Sanders and Darryl Erwin, in the country. The only thing that mattered was if you could coach and help get the most out of the players.
“She never looked at Brandon, Darryl or me as color but coaches,” Otuafi said. “She just looked at me and said that I have these great men coming to coach with me. She never looked at us as anything but coaches. She knows she has this diverse coaching staff, but we were coaches regardless of our color or ethnicity.”
While Dalager knocked down the wall for women coaching boys basketball at the varsity level, she did more by not only having a diverse coaching staff, but she never shunned anyone based on their gender or the color of their skin.
“I always saw Chelle as a coach. I never really saw it as there’s a female coaching the boys and that’s kudos to Chelle for the way she coaches. She’s a coach first,” Otuafi said. “I really appreciate her just like (football) coach (Brooke) Hill that they take the conversation with their assistants to heart. I love that about her. Even when I wasn’t there as much, she would call me about basketball and players and this and that. She’s always willing to have the conversations with me and talk. It was awesome.”
This season’s staff will look different with Sanders now living in Spanish Springs and Erwin moving to the girls program. But the foundation for what Dalager expects from her coaches – and players – has been established. The tradition and standard of coaching excellence had been set. It’s instilling that drive within the program to strive for the best and believe that anything is possible, which Erwin appreciated during his time with Dalager.
“The most important thing is that the players believed that it could happen, and coaches believed that it could as well,” he said. “There are progressions throughout the season that prepare you for situations that can go either way when it matters. These players from the past two seasons were grinders and warriors that were willing to fight for each other. The end result was positive and inspiring on so many levels.”
When she interviewed against several candidates for the position, Matt Reibsamen, the assistant athletics director, said it boiled down to Dalager’s passion to make the program better.
“All of the final candidates were qualified to assume the role as the head coach, but she had a passion for the job and it was evident that was to prove out as she has guided the program through her time as the head coach,” Reibsamen said. “It really isn’t about gender, but what a candidate brings to the program.”
Dalager’s hiring has shined the light not just on Greenwave athletics and its community, but it has the potential to open many doors. Anne Smith, who coached the Lady Wave to three-straight state championships and will join Dalager this year as an assistant, was surprised the barrier had not been broken before but was pleased to see Dalager become the first in the Silver State.
Dalager is basketball and she’s a coach to her core.
“She knows basketball and her presence on the floor and to have it be my friend is more special because she’s a close friend and has been a mentor since I started in 1998,” said Smith, who retired from the girls program in 2019 after both Fallon basketball teams won state for the first time in a century. “I think it opens the doorway for women to be respected in the field of male athletics and any sport. If you know basketball, you know basketball. It will give women confidence and a little more belief in themselves that they can coach males or females. She absolutely knocked down the wall and has been a trailblazer.”
Changing the landscape of boys basketball
It was barely a year before Dalager’s news created its first impact outside of Fallon.
Karen Friel, who coached the Galena girls basketball team for 16 years, retired but came back to assist the Grizzlies’ boys basketball program. Then, the boys head coach stepped down abruptly and Friel jumped in, following Dalager’s footsteps.
“It was kind of a last-minute deal,” she said. “You really don’t think about it.”
Friel, who coached against Dalager during her 16 years when she led the Lady Wave in the 4A, was ecstatic that her colleague became the boys head coach three years ago. When Friel took over the Galena boys program, she wasn’t sure what would happen when people would see a woman leading the South Reno school. The transition has gone as well as she’d hoped during her first year.
“I haven’t had any problems with the boys and they seem to accept what’s gone on and they just go with that,” Friel said. “You try to do the best that you can. We had one conversation about it my first year. Nobody has said a word to me and that’s the extent of it.”
With Dalager and Friel coaching two of the better programs in Northern Nevada, both hope that their story inspires others to continue knocking down walls.
Friel has no regrets with her decision.
“I’m glad it happened,” she said. “Maybe, we can open some doors for other women who are interested in this, and that would be great. Anymore, it’s so hard to find coaches in general and people passionate about what they do and to be part of a basketball program to grow and develop. It’s a lot of time. it’s difficult to find people to do that, man or woman.”
Dalager’s impact reached beyond her colleagues.
Longtime official Mike Evans was impressed when he first met Dalager as the girls coach. He noticed her “no-excuse” mentality and how it’s carried on with the Fallon boys. Last December in Fallon’s game against Truckee, Evans recalled one of the players dunking before the game and a technical foul was issued.
“She immediately took him out of the starting lineup and he did not play until the third quarter,” Evans said. “Needless to say, on Feb. 28 after winning the state championship again, decisions such as what were made a couple months – and years – earlier were pivotal in creating a fantastic team atmosphere.”
Anthony Mori, who covers sports for the Elko Daily Free Press, noticed an immediate improvement when Dalager took over in 2017. One year later when Fallon returned to Elko County, both the Greenwave and Indians were engaged in a slugfest lasting two overtimes before the hosts prevailed. Fallon, though, got revenge in the state championship in 2019 and then won three of the four matchups in the following year during its second title run.
“There was more effort, more unrelenting pressure and an all-out attack,” Mori said. “I felt like some of the Fallon teams in the past acted like big dogs but had never accomplished much. She demanded more from the kids. Chelle puts her kids in positions to succeed, and the moment doesn’t ever seem to be too big for her or her team.”
Her approach to how her players move through their days as student-athletes is a noticeable strength. She treats them like they will move onto the next stage, whether that’s college, trade school or the workforce. Dalager has made it clear that she demands the best from her players so that they will be their best on every stage in life. That level of excellence translates clearly in every situation.
More than just a coach
Behind every photo and news clipping was a story.
While dropping off paperwork at Dalager’s office, Trey Rooks noticed a wall full of old pictures, including a few of when he and his teammates were younger and played rez ball. Rooks asked his basketball coach about some of the photos and what followed was a story behind every photo, every player both past and present, including some she was still in contact.
“She told me that if I were to need to talk to her about anything, basketball related or not, she would be there for me,” said Rooks, who graduated in 2019 and played his last two years with Dalager, including the championship season when Fallon beat Elko in Las Vegas. “That meant a lot to me because she is someone who, at the time, already had a lot of my respect as a person. She showed me that day she genuinely wants to see people succeed, on and off the court.”
It was those little things that made the biggest impression for not only Rooks but his team in general. Every player – and the managers – had a stake in her investment with the team, and it was that comradery established from the get-go that created an inseparable bond between coach and player.
“She made sure every individual on both teams were very close,” said 2020 Fallon grad Elijah Jackson, who hit the game-winner to win both state titles. “We had a group bond and chemistry that led us to those victories. She led us and we followed her.”
Rooks and fellow graduate Jace Harmon were pivotal during their final year with the program. They weren’t the starters, and they were OK with that decision because the team came first, which Dalager instilled in each of her players. Both Rooks and Harmon jumped in during the 2019 regional semifinal when a pair of starters fouled out late in the game against Lowry with Fallon in the process of completing an improbable comeback to punch its ticket to state for the first time in 30 years.
It was no surprise to Harmon what his coach was able to do.
“I think that she is doing something that many people believed could never be done,” Harmon said. “I also think it is amazing that she was able to do it two years in a row. It shows her dedication and ability to be a great leader. I think that it shows that she belongs exactly where she is, and she is one of the best coaches that I have ever been around.”
And she demonstrated being a good leader to help her players achieve outside of the gym. The lessons taught in the locker room and on the floor could also be applied in the classroom and in the real world, which Rooks appreciated.
“I learned that there’s going to be times in your life when things don’t go your way and you feel like you’re stuck,” Rooks added. “The key is to simply find a way to push through. Whatever that obstacle is that’s in the way of you achieving your goal, there’s always a way through it, around it, below it…it doesn’t matter. There’s always a way. As long as you keep going and work hard to achieve that goal that’s precious to you, the sky is the limit.”