Tennis

High school sports: Carson’s Isley chooses tennis and Pfeiffer – Reuters

High school sports: Carson's Isley chooses tennis and Pfeiffer - Reuters

By Mike London
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CHINA GROVE — Carson senior Riley Isley picked up a tennis racket for the first time in seventh grade.

Five years later, she heads to Pfeiffer to play sports in college.

That’s how good an athlete Isley is.

“My dad (Scott) is the reason I tried tennis,” Isley said. “It was three or four days before tryouts at Erwin Middle School. He told me that I would like it and that I would be good at it.

He was right on both counts.

As a Carson rookie, Isley was part of the team. She has only played one official match – a doubles win – but has improved with practice.

As a sophomore, she was a big part of coach Kayela Galloway’s conference championship team. She provided an automatic win at No. 5 or No. 6 singles and was part of a No. 3 doubles team for sure.

During her COVID-shortened junior season, Isley rose to No. 2 in doubles and No. 3 or No. 4 in singles and helped Carson win another conference title.

The biggest challenges for Isley came as a senior.

The realignment moved Carson into a deeper and more difficult tennis league at the start of this school year.

Simultaneously, Isley rose to No. 1 in singles and No. 1 in doubles.

Playing No. 1 is hard work, but someone had to do it, and Isley was the most experienced player remaining in a program hit hard by graduation.

“For the first two weeks, I begged the coach to put someone else at No. 1,” Isley said. “I hadn’t lost much before this year and I was tired of losing.”

There are year-round players playing tennis 24/7. Isley never focused on tennis, but she competed with some exceptional players. Carson supported programs such as Weddington and Lake Norman outside the league, in addition to the Piedmont South Conference schedule.

Isley finished 7-9 in singles. She helped Carson finish second to Lake Norman Charter in the SPC.

“There were great No. 1s in our league,” Isley said. “I did my best to compete.”

Isley was more than competitive in doubles No. 1, where she and partner Bree Whittington were 10-5.

Then they went to the playoffs. They finished second in the SPC tournament to qualify for the regional. At regional, they qualified for the state tournament. They lost in the first round to the United States, but it was a good match that went three sets.

Isley’s twin sister, Hannah, is one of the stars of Carson’s basketball program. Riley didn’t play much as a sophomore on a loaded Carson team and didn’t come out as a junior.

A depleted roster really needed her as a senior, so she made a comeback. She was the first to leave the Cougars’ bench this season. She made the pressure free throw that won the SPC tournament championship against Northwest Cabarrus. She got the defensive rebound in heavy traffic that clinched the playoff win over Ashbrook.

Carson went 25-4 and couldn’t have done it without her.

“She’s very tough and competitive,” Carson basketball coach Brooke Stouder said. “For her height (5ft 7in) she was an outstanding rebounder.”

Isley has moved on to football now. Hannah is the Cougars’ leading scorer, but Riley is also one of the key players. She registered two goals and seven assists in a short junior season.

“I love football and it was my main sport for a long time, but tennis is much gentler on my bones and on my body,” Isley said. “I can’t wait to focus on tennis in college.”

Pfeiffer wasn’t at the top of Isley’s list of schools at the start of the school year, but you go where you’re wanted.

Some coaches she hoped to see in the stands never showed up, but Pfeiffer’s coach continued to show up for his games.

“I think he came in six games to watch me,” Isley said. “It was the program that interested me the most, and when I visited the school, I liked everything.”

Alison Sloop, who played a doubles season with Isley at Carson, is doing well at Pfeiffer and plays No. 4 in singles and No. 2 in doubles for the Falcons.