UConn visit, state tourney bookend Lawlor experience
The season opener wasn’t on the court. It was in the seats.
Before Fallon opened the season against Douglas in the Reno tournament in November, a gracious business bought tickets for the Lady Wave basketball team to watch No. 1 UConn play Nevada’s women’s basketball team at Lawlor Events Center. It was one thing to read stories and watch videos of the Huskies, one of the most dominating programs in all of college sports. It was another to watch them play in front of their eyes.
Three months later, Fallon was back at Lawlor but on the same court that saw ex-Reed star Gabby Williams and her UConn teammates dazzle the largest crowd in stadium history. The Lady Wave competed in the university’s arena for the first time and on the biggest stage, seeking its second state championship in a row. Fallon handed Lowry its eighth-straight loss in the series to win the 3A state title, 60-45, on Saturday.
“To be able to finish it here as a senior and being able to run up and down the court like they did, it’s a good feeling,” Fallon senior Kaitlyn Hunter said.
And while UConn has been dominating women’s basketball this decade, Fallon has been on a similar path in the 3A in the last three seasons. Take a look at how the Lady Wave dominated the 3A:
48-straight regular-season league wins
Outscored opponents 2,686-1,172 in the regular season
Two regional titles
Two state titles
Eight-straight wins over Lowry in the last two seasons
Wins over four 4A schools, including state qualifier McQueen
The Lady Wave’s success began with its five seniors, who played their final game on Saturday and finished with a combined 17 years of varsity experience. Caitlyn Welch, the team’s defensive catalyst in last year’s state championship, led the team on the floor this year while Faith Cornmesser provided balance with junior Let Otuafi in the paint to throw off defenses. Kaitlyn Hunter was instrumental as a leader while Hannah Evans and Hanna Hitchcock came off the bench.
“It’s tough. That’s where I get choked up,” Fallon coach Anne Smith about her seniors’ final game. “I’ve had Caitlyn Welch for four years and the others for three. They become part of the family and you send them on their way. You hope they take something away from playing basketball.”
It’s a senior class that will leave an enormous void. They cannot be replaced but Fallon can reload to continue to its historic run in the 3A next year.
“The program’s going to be in good hands if everyone works hard,” Cornmesser said. “Coach Smith is a good role model for the kids. If everyone keeps working hard, the teams are going to be good and keep getting better. It will just keep going on. It’s all from the work you put in.”
Like the Energizer bunny that keeps going and going, Smith has this program built to last for many seasons to come. The work is ongoing; it doesn’t stop with the state championship. It’s merely the beginning and can keep going and going as long the work is put in the offseason.
“Hopefully, we get more girls in the offseason and put in some time,” Smith added. “We’ll take what comes. Obviously, you would like to get back to state but we don’t emphasize that at the beginning of the season.”
But with three consecutive trips to state, including two titles, it will become an expectation that Fallon not only qualifies for the regional tournament but that the Lady Wave will advance to the final tournament. Like UConn expected to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, Fallon is among the elite.
Smith’s teams over the years have contributed to the building a solid foundation and for the last year years, Fallon has proven that it is the best team in the 3A and one of the best teams in the Silver State. It knocked off 4A schools Douglas, McQueen, Manogue and Spanish Springs. The Lancers fell to Reno in the regional title game while the Cougars were the No. 1 seed from the High Sierra.
Fallon should not settle and should always be hungry for another championship. Fallon’s future is in good shape as the Lady Wave basketball team is the program that others should emulate.
Thomas Ranson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org