State championship started before high school
High school state championships don’t happen overnight.
They happen long before the high school season begins. It can even happen as early as boys and girls are able to comprehend putting a strange orange ball through a cylinder.
For the Lady Wave, Saturday’s state championship victory over Lowry was a culmination of hard work, determination and perseverance that not only took place during the high school season, but it started before players could call Anne Smith their coach.
Like the football team’s title in 2015, that started when a band of brothers was playing in the Sierra Youth Football League, this year’s band of sisters has been playing together since before high school.
“I’m really proud that they stayed together and continued to play,” said Brian McAlexander, a longtime basketball coach at Fallon’s middle school. “We tend to lose so many through high school. These girls are going to be good, I hope, for the next couple of years.”
Fallon had only one senior — Zoey Swisher — on this championship team but had strong junior and sophomore classes that have been together since those middle school days and even longer. Six juniors and five sophomores helped bring a state championship to the Lahontan Valley.
For McAlexander, whose daughter, Chandler, made the varsity squad as a sophomore, his goal has always been for the girls to improve and understand the game of basketball.
“My goal at the middle school was to get better and respect each other and respect the game. I’m sure some of it carried over — I hope it did,” he added. “You always want them to get better for the future.”
As a parent watching his daughter play, for a change, it’s been a different experience as opposed to when he was coaching her at the middle school.
“You’re just proud. I’m proud of her. I’m proud of the other girls, too,” McAlexander added. “As a parent, it’s something that’s hard to explain. The heart starts beating a lot faster when they’re doing well.”
Chelle Dalager has seen the trials and tribulations of Lady Wave basketball since last decade. Her 2003 team was one of the most talented in the program when it started off hot and eventually garnered a No. 3 seed for the 4A state tournament. She stepped down from coaching and then came back to take Fallon to state in its first year in the 3A before stepping down again, handing the reins to Anne Smith.
Dalager, though, never stepped away from coaching.
“Just to see it unfold is absolutely amazing,” said Dalager, an assistant on this year’s team. “These kids have worked so hard in practice. (Anne’s) really done a great job. It’s just amazing for the first state championship in school history. It’s amazing to see. They’ve worked hard and they deserve it.”
Dalager, like McAlexander, has coached at the middle school level and helps as time allows. It’s because of their unwavering support and dedication to give opportunities to girls who want to play basketball and thrive. From there, it’s up to them to harness that knowledge and experience and hope it pays off at the high school level.
And it did on Saturday. This was a win for the high school. It was a win for the middle school. It was a win for the elementary schools’ intramural programs. It was a win for the community.
“For all the teams that missed it before, you kind of feel like you’re representing all of girls basketball,” Smith said. “Under coach (Brad) Daum, coach Dalager — just everyone. It feels really good.”
With 11 players returning next year, Fallon will no doubt be favored to win another state title. But after not fielding a freshman team this year — just like volleyball — Fallon needs every girl in the community who wants to make a difference and continue a new tradition of Lady Wave basketball.
“I’m trying not to think about (the future). I’m trying to just be really happy about where we are and what we accomplished,” Smith said. “Our numbers are down in the program. We lost our freshman team. Hopefully, young girls see this program and want to be part of it. It’s a good program and these are good girls. Hopefully, we’ll get our numbers back up.”
The returning players are already talking about getting back to work. While savoring the first NIAA state title in program history, the team’s excited that there could be more to come, just like the softball program.
“We’re going to continue our program even when we’re not in season,” junior guard Caitlyn Welch said. “We’re going to work hard and put in the time to get better than where we are right now.”
And it’s that kind of work ethic and focus instilled earlier in players’ careers and harnessed at the high school level that will lead to more championships. Because of the work put in early at the youth leagues, including Jam On It, and middle school, Fallon is in position to hang more state banners.
“Hard work paid off. I’ve been working at this for four years and it finally paid off,” Swisher said. “For us to win the regional and the state title, I’m really proud to be a Greenwave.”
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at email@example.com.