Grizzlies best Greenwave in battle to the end
Tears were shed Friday afternoon at the Reno High School gym as the defending Nevada state champions the Spring Valley Grizzlies defeated the Greenwave varsity girls basketball team, 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. The Grizzlies, 24-3 overall and 14-0 in Southern DI-A, advanced to defend their title Saturday against longtime Sunset League rivals, the Faith Lutheran Crusaders, who beat the Grizzlies 50-47 to become the new state champs.
Fallon coach Anne Smith said the game against Spring Valley was arguably the toughest the Wave faced all season and the loss was tough on her players.
“I said to them ‘If you’re crying, don’t cry because you just lost,” Smith said when asked what she told her players in the locker room after the game. “I felt like they played a heck of a 32 minutes. ‘Cry because it’s over, our time together. All the fun things that we do, all the memories that we create, cry that it’s over.’ That’s what I told them.”
Smith also said Spring Valley displayed great defensive pressure with one of the toughest man-to-man defenses the Wave faced all season.
“They trapped that first pass, and that took us a little bit by surprise so we kind of had to make some adjustments there,” Smith said. “Once those adjustments were made and we started to counter the odds, I felt like we kind of got into a rhythm. But they got ahead by quite a few.”
The Grizzlies led the first quarter 16-12 with a risky man defense where two defenders left a gap on the floor to double-team one Fallon player. This choked the Wave’s passing lanes and gave Spring Valley more chances at the net from turnovers.
The Grizzlies’ Kayla Harris began the first quarter with a 3-pointer and continued to rush the open lanes up to the end of the first half, shooting from the perimeter and soaring above the Wave guards.
Fallon’s Megan McCormick and Faith Cornmesser nearly turned the tide at the free-throw line while the Grizzlies put most of their energy into blocking Leilani Otuafi at the perimeter and Leta Otuafi under the net.
With less than a minute left in the first half, Fallon’s Caitlyn Welch scored two consecutive baskets, but Spring Valley led the second quarter, 25-24.
“We got the lead in the third but we had a few turnovers there in a few key opportunities when we should’ve scored,” Smith said of her team’s brief third quarter comeback. “They didn’t score and so possession went to a turnover or a ball rolled out of bounds or something, and we’d let them turn the ball over instead of capitalizing.”
Welch tied the score in the third with a 3-pointer, after which Leta Otuafi found her rhythm under the net and scored a basket to give Fallon a brief 33-32 lead with three minutes left.
Soon, though, Spring Valley capitalized on Fallon’s overthrown passes and Myra Tadytin charged the perimeter to regain the lead for the Grizzlies, 36-34.
Despite a skillful last turnaround basket by McCormick, Spring Valley ended the third quarter, 41-36.
The Lady Wave’s last chance to change the pace of the game fizzled in the fourth quarter due to all the personal fouls that allowed the Grizzlies to spend more time at the free throw line.
“You can’t give them two or three opportunities for an offensive rebound and then foul,” Smith said. “You’ve got to take care of the ball the first and second time you get to the floor. In the fourth we allowed them two, three, four opportunities for that offensive rebound and then we’d foul.”
Harris and the Grizzlies’ Essence Booker each made it to the free throw line more than five times in the fourth alone, and in no time, Spring Valley finished on top.
Smith commended her players, nonetheless, particularly since only one of her starting five, McCormick, is a senior while the rest are freshmen and sophomores.
“The Otuafi cousins, they’ve played a lot of basketball,” Smith said of the two freshmen starters. “I don’t know if they’ve played in such an arena where there’s a lot of people cheering for them in such a survive and advance situation but Spring Valley won state last year and that probably worked in their favor a little bit. Hopefully the girls can learn and next year, when they get back, it will be a little bit more familiar.”
Smith also said her team’s youth will work to its advantage next year with all the players have already proven themselves capable of in both their performance and their character.
After the game, the Otuafi cousins expressed a sense of pride in what they’ve accomplished with their team.
“It was a real heartbreaker, but I feel like we did a lot to get to this point and worked really hard to get here,” Leilani Otuafi said.
Leta Otuafi said she didn’t feel heartbroken as much as she just felt proud of her team to come this far and the fact that she and her teammates actually got to play the game they love was enough.
McCormick, joining the Otuafis outside the locker room, expressed a similar sentiment as one of the only two seniors on the Lady Wave in addition to Madison Perrazzo, both graduating in May.
“I’m definitely depressed because that’s the last basketball game I’m ever going to play,” McCormick said, “but at the same time, I wouldn’t trade my team for anything and we left everything out there on the floor.”