The last time they played in this gym in the postseason, it didn’t end well.
Three years ago, the Lady Wave basketball team finished its first undefeated league season in the 3A, earned the No. 1 seed for the regional tournament and then was stunned on a last-second 3-pointer as Lowry won the regional tournament.
Since that time, though, it’s been all Fallon. Three more league titles, two regional championships and two state crowns. That heartbreaking loss at North Valleys High School was the last time Fallon has lost to a 3A Northern opponent. Fallon, which won its 65th-straight against league opponents in the regular season on Saturday, enters this week’s 3A Northern Regional Tournament at North Valleys High School as the No. 1 seed for the fourth-straight year.
“I’m really happy with where they are,” Fallon coach Anne Smith said. “We’ve got a lot of issues worked out. They seemed focused and ready to go. I felt like that Fernley game was going to be really telling. I couldn’t have been prouder with how they’ve stayed focus and stuck to the game plan. I’m happy with where we’re going into the regional.”
Saturday’s 48-30 win over Fernley in Lyon County was a complete 180 compared to their first meeting last month. The Vaqueros jumped on the Greenwave in the first meeting and lead by double digits into the third quarter before the Otuafi cousins and Kenna Hamlin took over to get the win. The second meeting was a different story: Fallon’s pressure suffocated Fernley in the first quarter, allowing for a 17-10 advantage. After three quarters, the score jumped to 47-26.
“I told them that this is the comeback team. I really stressed to the girls that they have to stay focused all the way to the end,” Smith said.
Smith praised sophomore guard Madison Whitaker and senior forward Chandler McAlexander for their performance against Fernley. Whitaker was tasked with guarding Fernley sharpshooter Jaiden Sullivan, who didn’t hit any 3-pointers after burying six against Fallon last month. McAlexander dominated the paint and was a machine in rebounding.
“Madi shot well and drove well. Chandler had some great rebounds for us and some putbacks on some great shots,” Smith said.
Turning the page to the regional tournament, Smith feels the target on her team’s back has grown bigger this season as Fallon goes for its third title and fourth-straight trip to the state tournament, which is next week at The Orleans in Las Vegas.
This year’s group has a different makeup than the previous season when Fallon graduated five, including a pair of all-state players. But this year’s senior group has stepped up to ease the transition and after a wakeup call against Fernley last month, Fallon has turned a corner.
Seniors Leilani and Leta Otuafi lead the league in scoring with Leta averaging 16.5 points per game and Leilani at 14.7. Leilani Otuafi is closing in on Carey Behimer Gantt’s scoring record while Leta Otuafi eclipsed 1,000 career points this month.
“This team is brand new to us. We’re still doing good and executing,” Leilani Otuafi said. “We need to move the ball more instead of forcing a lot of our stuff. Anything can happen with any of these teams.”
Smith said the league’s quality has improved with Spring Creek and Truckee in the mix, aside from it just being Fallon and Lowry like previous years.
“I don’t think we’re confident. We’re cautiously confident,” Smith said. “The top teams are closer this year. There’s more parody. We have to play exactly how we did against Fernley and maybe even better. I do feel like they’re prepared. I was happy to see a lot of things. There were a lot of different things the girls did that let me know we’re ready.”
For Fallon, the experience from previous postseasons will play a factor. Five starters have been with the program since they were freshmen. They were there when Lowry upset Fallon in the regional tournament. But they were there when Fallon went back-to-back at the state tournament.
“Where we are right now mentally, that experience is going to be on our side,” Smith said. “The starting five (Otuafis, Hamlin, McAlexander and Alexis Jarrett) have all been there. They’ve been there since we won our first state title. There is some experience coming back. They know what it’s like to play in an environment that’s highly emotional with fans and the crowd. That is a definite help for us. We just have to stay focused and intense and keep an eye on our goal.”
With the No. 1 seed, Fallon (17-0) receives a bye and awaits the winner of No. 4 Truckee (12-5) and No. 5 Fernley (10-8). The Wolverines swept the Vaqueros during the regular season – both games by single digits – and knocked off No. 2 Spring Creek (14-3) on the road this month.
Smith views Truckee like a soccer team playing basketball. With most of the players playing soccer in the fall, Truckee plays an unconventional style, making it difficult to prepare. Senior forward Ava Seelenfreund leads the team with a 13-points-per-game average.
“It’s almost like they treat the basketball court like a soccer field. They just know when to cut,” Smith said. “They’re really tough to prepare for. They’ve got some 3-point shooters.”
But don’t count out Fernley. Led by juniors Jaiden Sullivan and Celeste Condie, the Vaqueros have been competitive in nearly every game. Six of their eight league losses have been by double digits.
“Condie and Sullivan are game changers. You have to be on them at all times,” Smith said. “They transition well. They’ve played long together enough they anticipate where they’re going to be. They’re very good at disguising their defenses or changing the unexpected. You have to rebound.”
On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 Spring Creek awaits the winner of No. 3 Lowry (14-4) vs. No. 6 Elko/South Tahoe (6-10). Elko and South Tahoe face off in a makeup game to determine the final seed.
Aside from Truckee, which is the second-hottest team in the league, Spring Creek has improved greatly from last year to finish second in the league.
“Spring Creek is strong on their guards and their posts,” Smith said. “They have some outside shooters. They rebound well. They’re probably the best Spring Creek team I’ve seen in years.”
And Lowry, while having a less successful year than previous Buckaroo teams, can still cause problems, especially from long distance.
“As in years past, they’re deadly from the 3-point line. It hurt us when we played at their place,” Smith said. “They drive and dish to that 3-point line. When they get hot, they’re hard to beat. They’re definitely a team that you cannot overlook by any means.”
As long as Fallon focuses on itself, Leta Otuafi said the team will be in good shape to return to the state tournament.
“It just goes to show that as long as we play our best game, we should be fine,” she added.