Lake Norman & Mooresville

Four-year starter looks to lead young Wildcats

Marissa Riley knows that for her Lake Norman basketball team to be successful, she has to take charge, as both a player and a leader.

The senior, who led her team with nearly 15 points and 10 rebounds per game last season, will be responsible for helping a young Wildcats squad - that is adjusting to its third coach in three seasons - become an I-Meck conference contender.

Riley, who was only 12 points away from netting her 1,000th point entering the season, is able to affect the game with her versatility. She's not only able to shoot and rebound, but she's also able to pass the ball and be a lockdown defender.

"I don't feel like I have just one strength," said Riley. "I feel like I'm pretty even everywhere. Dribbling is the one thing I really need to work on. That's the weakness to my game right now."

That skill will be more important than ever for the all-conference forward as she moves to play more as a guard this season, trying to get comfortable with the position she will likely play next year at UNC Asheville, where Riley signed to play.

Riley admitted she's already seeing a difference, being able to better see the floor and read her opponents.

The 17-year-old said that she loves the post, but she knows that her 5-10 physique will prevent her signature up-and-under moves from being as efficient in college.

First-year Lake Norman coach Richard Tinucci said Riley stands out because of her work ethic.

"She's one of the hardest workers on the floor," he said. "She deserves everything that she gets right now."

Tinucci added Riley's biggest asset to the team may be her leadership.

"She's determined and she's positive," said Tinucci, who took over the program when Lori Reavis left. "With so many young players on this team - with five or six sophomores - that's what she needs to do: give them positive reinforcement."

Tinucci said the team looks up to Riley, who he says leads by example, although she's not shy to stand up and say something when it's needed.

Riley admitted she relates to how the younger girls feel playing at the varsity level, being a four-year starter for the Wildcats.

She recalled how tough it was for her as a freshman on varsity, but she also said the experience allowed her to grow as a player.

"Coming in I wasn't really prepared," said Riley. "They pretty much kicked my butt freshman year, but that really did help - not being babied on JV, but being thrown out there. I learned a lot."

Riley followed her freshman year by breaking out to lead Lake Norman in scoring and rebounding as a sophomore. Earning all-conference honors, she led former coach Dave Walla's team with 13 points and six rebounds per game as the Wildcats went 24-6 and reached the 4A state semifinals.

Returning only four players last year, Riley led Lake Norman to a 14-11 record and a trip to the first round of the 4A playoffs.

Losing its No. 2 and No. 3 scorers to graduation from last season - Landyn Mannion and Lynnsey Howard, who combined for nearly 18 points a game - Lake Norman will have to find players other than Riley to consistently contribute.

Guards Allie Wyman, a junior, and Kaitlyn Hunt, a senior, should help ease the burden, playing larger roles on the team. Newcomer Argia Gibson, a 5-9 junior, has impressed with her speed.

Riley said the team's younger players, including her younger sister, Maddie, are also working hard to get better.