When Herriman coach Kent Smith got word that BYU commit Lealani Falatea was transferring to his school back in late May, it goes without saying he was elated. Falatea is arguably the best guard in the state and a game-changer for any program.
It was news he could’ve easily shared with his players with a quick group text, but he had other ideas. He wanted it to be a surprise, so he kept the news close to his vest until Herriman’s first open gym session in early June.
“First open gym in June she comes in and sits down and starts putting on her shoes and everyone starts going, ‘That’s Lani. What’s she doing in our gym?’” said Smith.
The reactions were priceless, and Smith casually responded to the chatter by informing his players Falatea had transferred to Herriman after her dad accepted an assistant coaching position with the football team.
After three great seasons with East, which included winning state titles as freshman and sophomore, Falatea was naturally nervous about changing schools before her senior year.
Many of those nerves vanished after that first open gym session of the summer.
“I was a little stressed about it, but these girls have been super welcoming and the coaching staff is great. Glad to be here,” said Falatea.
On the court, Falatea has fit in seamlessly as evidenced by Herriman’s dominance.
Herriman improved its record to 14-1 on Thursday night with a resounding 73-49 victory over Riverton, a game that wasn’t even that close as it led by 39 points early in the fourth quarter.
Falatea led the way 24 points, with Ainzlee Enger chipping in with 13 more as they helped the Mustangs roll past a quality Riverton team.
“They’re long, they’re athletic and we circled this as a big game. And they came ready to play,” said Smith about his team’s approach.
Two nights earlier, Herriman beat Copper Hills by 23 points, but collectively there was disappointment with the energy throughout the game. Following a very spirited practice Wednesday, Herriman came out flying against Riverton and put the game away very early with some suffocating defense.
“She just doesn’t care if she gets a shot every time, which she could. She just makes the right basketball play.” — Herriman coach Kent Smith on Lealani Falatea
“I just think everyone was working as a team today, and our defense was on. Communication everything,” said Falatea. “It hasn’t been this great for the whole preseason actually, but we’re starting to come together as a team and it’s working really well.”
Herriman’s perimeter defense and 3-point shooting is as good as anyone in 6A, but where the questions marks are is on the glass.
There are teams in 6A with much bigger players — most notably No. 1 Fremont — and Smith knows rebounding may ultimately be the key to the season come playoff time.
“There’s a couple of big teams we’re going to matchup with somewhere down the road. We don’t even have to win it, we just have to be reasonably close,” said Smith.
That’s how things unfolded Thursday. Herriman lost the rebounding edge early in the game, but still led comfortably because of superiority in every other facet of the game.
A big reason is always the steadying influence Falatea brings to the game.
“She just doesn’t care if she gets a shot every time, which she could. She just makes the right basketball play. And I think the other girls are less likely to do things on their own because she plays so much like a team leader,” said Smith.
She knows from experience at East that building a team culture is the only path toward success.
“If we’re not going to be working together as a team then there’s no way we’re going to take a championship. It’s a team effort all the way,” said Falatea.
With just four games left in the regular season, the next three weeks for Herriman will be all about fine tuning for what it hopes is a deep playoff run.