Dynamic state-championship duo named LVN Athletes of the Year | NevadaAppeal.com

Dynamic state-championship duo named LVN Athletes of the Year

Thomas Ranson
lvnsports@yahoo.com

About six years ago, a pair of future state champions met for the first time, playing on the same travel softball team.

One would catch for the other, something that just stuck all the way through high school when both Caitlyn Welch and Faith Cornmesser competed together for the Greenwave on the basketball court and softball field. Welch ran the floor like a basketball general for Anne Smith's two-time state champs while Cornmesser provided a much-needed presence in the paint to draw attention off the Otuafi cousins. On the diamond, Cornmesser was the queen in the circle, pitching Fallon to a state title as a freshman and then again as a senior with Welch, who caught for her occasionally, by her side.

After the pair led Fallon to state championships in the winter in basketball and then followed with an improbable run in the spring with the softball team, Welch and Cornmesser are this year's Athletes of the Year.

An unbreakable bond

They've played on the same team since they were 12 years old, learning each other's strengths and weaknesses while developing a strong bond on and off the field.

"Our relationship has played a big factor in sports," Welch said. "During basketball, we just knew where each other were at all times. She was always ready to catch any pass I threw at her. When I caught for her in softball, we learned to trust each other. Faith trusted me with pitch calling and I trusted her that she would get that ball there. Whenever one of us got frustrated we were able to calm each other down and get focused again."

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That trust led to the pair collecting four state titles, including the first NIAA-sanctioned basketball championship for the school that dominated girls basketball in the 1920s.

"Just like with the rest of the team, we all put in so much work to reach the level we did and to win both state titles," Cornmesser said. "Being able to win not only the last two together, but to win all four that we did together is something that I will never forget. Not many people are even given the opportunity to win a single state title."

Cornmesser recalls their middle school basketball time together but softball stood out the most. Welch caught Cornmesser for many years, even though Welch played more in the infield during their final season together. Nevertheless, they did everything together.

"There is a bond that cannot be broken between a pitcher and a catcher," Cornmesser said. "We were always together during and even before softball season, working out for the season. We were always hitting and throwing partners. We had a handshake we did before every inning without fail. I hurt her thumb from pitching. We did everything together. We are much closer now because of all the sports and that is a bond that cannot be broken."

The general on the court

Without Welch, there are no state basketball championships.

She was named the league's MVP during her senior season and was also named to the all-state first team in each of her last two seasons. Fallon also won the regional championship during the last two seasons after falling short during Welch's sophomore year.

Along with her suffocating defense, Welch ran the floor, directing traffic and helping align the next play. Her daggers from long distance frustrated the opposition.

"It meant everything to me with winning that state championship," said Welch, whose defense two years ago helped Fallon win the state title in Las Vegas. "I was so happy that I was able to contribute to that state title. I don't think I would have done anything different to this year's basketball season. It was a fun season and we were successful every step of the way."

After winning the school's second basketball title, Welch's leadership helped change the course of the softball season. Fallon got hot at the end of the season, never losing since sweeping Spring Creek and Dayton to end the regular season.

Welch finished her career as a first-team all-league and all-state selection after playing mostly at second and batting leadoff.

"This year was different from the rest because there was some conflict at the beginning of the season," Welch said comparing the two state softball titles. "But everyone set a goal for winning state and we all came together as a team to get things done."

Winning the state title isn't the end for Welch as she'll continue her playing career at Dickinson State University in North Dakota. But as she's excited to play both basketball and softball next year, Welch has a special place reserved for her high school career.

"High school sports is great to participate in because it will help you get to the next level, which is college," she said. "It also requires you to stay on top of things in the classroom and keep your grades up. It is an experience that I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on. It is so much fun and a great extracurricular activity to keep the athletes in shape but the friendships that you get out of playing sports will last forever. I have met some of my greatest friends playing sports and I couldn't be more thankful."

Welch will play for an ex-Greenwave standout at Dickson State where Liz Lewis has the women's basketball program on the rise. For Welch, it was a good fit from the start and she'll be able to compete on the softball team as well.

"As I was in contact with Coach Lewis early in the recruiting process it just clicked," Welch said. "I felt like she can make me a better basketball player and most importantly a better person. As I was on my visit, the girls on the team were extremely nice to me. It just felt like home. I could see myself going to school there and playing for the Bluehawks."

Fallon's captain in the circle

When she was a freshman, Cornmesser was called upon to pitch in the biggest game of her life.

"It didn't faze me. I ate my lunch between the games and then went to warm up," Cornmesser said. "It was a cool feeling when we won, but nothing compared to senior year."

Not only did she succeed in helping Fallon win the state championship, but the game put the rest of the state on notice. Cornmesser would go on to excel the next three years, including bookending her career with another state championship, as she garnered many honors, including first-team all-league during those three years and first-team all-state in her last two. She was also named the Las Vegas Review Journal's Best of Nevada Preps Honorable Mention and selected as the NIAA Top Ten Student-Athlete recipient in April.

Like her freshman season, Cornmesser pitched this year's state championship game. She was the team's rock during the season and didn't disappoint.

"I was hungry for another victory," Cornmesser said. "As the game progressed, I began to get nervous but didn't let it show. I needed to stay within myself and not try to do too much, similar to how I treated it my freshman year without realizing it. When we finally won, there was a sense of relief and excitement. We had met our goal. There is nothing I wouldn't do to help my team reach their goal. The feeling is much better when everyone can celebrate it together."

After missing the volleyball season with an injury, Cornmesser returned to the court in the winter, becoming a second-team all-state selection. She missed the first tournament of the season, including a heartbreaking loss to Reno, which could have ended differently with Cornmesser on the court. But her presence at the post gave Fallon another threat and the rest was history.

"As a team, we worked so hard every day at practice and a majority of the summer to meet this goal," she said. "It is hard to get to the top, but it is even harder to stay there. There is no better way to leave a season, or even the sport as a whole, as I won't be continuing after high school."

What Cornmesser will continue after high school, though, is softball — her first love. She will play at Lyon College in Arkansas next spring but, like Welch, she will miss not suiting up in the green and white and playing in front of the Fallon community.

"High school sports are a once in a lifetime opportunity that can bring you some of your closest friends," Cornmesser said. "Along with the friends and memories, there are many lessons to be taught and learned along the journey that come from both the successes and the failures. Teamwork is another key component that is displayed all the time in sports, being a team player can get you far in life."

Like her teammate, Lyon was a perfect fit and its softball program is one of the best in the country.

"I was drawn to this school because of the location, quality of placement after graduation and for the softball," Cornmesser said. "The softball coaches had a level of confidence in me that I hadn't seen from another college. They were in and out of the Top 25 softball teams in the nation."

It's no secret that Welch and Cornmesser fed off each other and brought out the best in one another. It's also no secret that these ex-Greenwave stars will not play together – maybe in an alumni game down the road – as both will be heading to different parts in the country.

But in the four years they spent together on the hardwood and in the diamond, they brought four state championships back to the Lahontan Valley, thus cementing their names into Greenwave legacy.