Emma Riley

Plano East junior Emma Riley will continue her soccer career at Arkansas State University next year.

Although the end of her spring break was less than ideal, with the wheels set in motion for the remainder of her junior season being cancelled, Plano East’s Emma Riley managed to squeeze in a pivotal trip east early on during her week off.

Riley’s destination: Jonesboro, Arkansas, for a visit to Arkansas State University. A standout midfielder for the Lady Panthers’ soccer team, Riley had been through the recruiting rigors of visiting multiple schools beforehand, but something hit home with the East star following her stay in Arkansas — something that culminated in a verbal commitment to play for the Red Wolves following her graduation in 2021.

“Honestly, I’m just so excited and relieved. Especially in the midst of the coronavirus, to know that I have a place to go is pretty reassuring and I’m excited to have this decision all made,” Riley said.

With the initial suspension of high school sports taking place not long after Riley’s visit, the midfielder made the most of her time in Jonesboro. 

“I took my visit during our first spring break, so right at the beginning of all this,” she said. “I stayed out there and stayed in a dorm with four of the girls. They really took me in and made me feel like I was part of the team. They showed me around the whole campus and I got to eat hibachi. It was a really nice, fun experience.”

Riley also lauded the school’s team dynamic and family atmosphere — two things she valued heavily in making her college decision. Arkansas State also checked any academic boxes Riley had in mind, as she hopes to someday attend medical school.

She’ll get to do so while playing soccer, first learning of Arkansas State’s interest in her during a January showcase tournament in Florida with her club team, Sting ECNL. Talks had heated up plenty by March, with Riley also weighing interest from St. Louis University, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and North Texas, as well as preliminary discussions with Oklahoma and Baylor.

But for any visits she made prior to visiting Arkansas State, something was missing.

“I had visited multiple places and would leave unsure and not really feeling like any school had an edge. When I left Arkansas State, I knew that was where I wanted to go,” Riley said.

Fortunate to have her decision made before the pandemic was in full swing, particularly considering the bevy of club soccer events — vital opportunities for college recruiters — cancelled for the summer, Riley’s relief in making her college choice comes during an emotionally trying time as she and the rest of the Lady Panthers’ soccer program cope with an abrupt end to their 2019 season. 

“I was super proud of our team at Plano East this year,” Riley said. “I think this is definitely the best season we’ve had as a team since I’ve been there and I think we have a lot to look forward to next season as well. We learned so much and had such great team chemistry. It’s pretty sad how it ended but it set us on a good building point for next season.

“Everyone was really sad, especially for our seniors. They didn’t get to have their senior night and we’re a tight-knit group, so it’s been tough not seeing each other everyday.”

Riley lauded her team’s seniors — a five-player class that included Kat Fregien, Elizabeth Ryan, Ella Jones, Jessie Schmidt and Anna Rivera, for the influence and positive attitude they had on the rest of an otherwise young East squad

“Our senior class was such a positive group. There were only a few of them, but as individuals they were some of the sweetest girls on our team,” Riley said. “They were all super sweet girls who were motivated and really wanted to best for the team.”

Those seniors laid a blueprint for Riley and the rest of the 2021 class to follow next season, as the midfielder looks to continue what’s been an otherwise banner career on varsity — including all-district first-team honors as both a freshman and a sophomore.

She’s hopeful that’s a sign of things to come once she gets to college, hoping to carve out a key scoring role with Arkansas State. In the meantime, she’s had to deal with plenty of change to her day-to-day routine during the ongoing pandemic but still manages to get touches on the soccer ball daily and is staying active in hopes of returning to the pitch when things are back to normal.

“It’s been crazy. I’m definitely a people person and it’s pretty hard on me being cooped up in my house,” Riley said. “I miss my team, both club and high school, and being able to see them, and I miss the game so much. I’m ready to get out of the house.”

For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow Matt Welch on Twitter.

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