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

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 3, 2022

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE — Carson senior Riley Isley picked up a tennis racket for the first time as a seventh-grader.

Five years later, she’s headed to Pfeiffer to play the sport 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 I’d enjoy it and I’d be good at it.”

He was right on both counts.

As a Carson freshman, Isley was on the team. She was only in one official match — a doubles win — but she got better by practicing.

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 half of a sure-thing No. 3 doubles team.

In her COVID-shortened junior season, Isley moved up to No. 2 doubles and No. 3 or No. 4 singles and helped Carson take another conference title.

The biggest challenges for Isley came as a senior.

Realignment moved Carson into a deeper, tougher tennis league when this school year began.

Simultaneously, Isley made the move up to No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles.

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

“Those first couple of weeks I was begging Coach to put someone else at No. 1,” Isley said.  “I hadn’t lost much before this year and I was getting tired of losing.”

There are some year-round players out there that do tennis 24/7. Isley has never focused on tennis, but she competed with some outstanding players.  Carson took on programs such as Weddington and Lake Norman outside the league, in addition to the South Piedmont Conference schedule.

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

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

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

Then they went on a postseason run. They were second in the SPC tournament to qualify for the regional. At the regional, they qualified for the state tournament. They lost in the first round at states, but it was a good match that went three sets.

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

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

Carson went 25-4 and wouldn’t have been able to do that without her.

“She’s very tough and competitive,” Carson basketball coach Brooke Stouder said. “For her size (5-foot-7), she was an exceptional rebounder.”

Isley has moved on to soccer now. Hannah is the top goal scorer for the Cougars, but Riley is also one of the key players. She had two goals and seven assists in a short junior season.

“I like soccer and it was my main sport for a long time, but tennis is a lot easier on my bones and on body,” Isley said.  “I’m looking forward to concentrating on tennis in college.”

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

Some coaches that she hoped to see in the bleachers never came, but Pfeiffer’s coach kept showing up for her matches.

“I think he came to six matches to watch me,” Isley said. “They were the program that was the most interested, and when I visited the school, I liked everything about it.”

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