COLUMBUS — The girls basketball season was months in the past, but it still festered in Alexa Riveland’s mind.
Riveland had just finished her sophomore year at Columbus, and she accomplished few of the basketball goals she set as a freshman. With an all-state selection in mind, she decided to put in work that summer. A ton of work.
Riveland's effort led to an excellent season that ended with an all-state selection. Now that her main individual accomplishment has been completed, the senior point guard is focused more on a team objective: to send the Cougars to their first state tournament since 2014.
“We thought last year we had it and we were just gonna get it, and we ended up not getting it,” Riveland said. “It takes hard work no matter how good you think you are.”
Riveland’s workload two summers ago was more repetition than regimen. Every day, other than a one-week vacation, she was in the gym for some period of time working on her game. Some days, she practiced for just 30 minutes, but those were the light days.
Time of day wasn’t planned out, either. While others were celebrating the three-day weekend on July 3, 2016, she was thinking about basketball. She went into the gym at 10:30 that night.
"I went into my freshman year, and I thought I’d just be able to work myself up there and just kinda get (an all-state honor)," she said. "Sophomore year, it didn’t happen, and obviously I was upset. I was like, 'Okay, now this year, I’m gonna get it. I don’t care, it’s gonna happen.'"
Riveland focused on all aspects of her offensive game — 3-point shooting, shooting off the dribble, layups, etc. Most of her practice was solo, so she couldn’t focus on passing or defense. Luckily for her, those parts of her game were fine-tuned.
“She’s the best defender I’ve probably ever coached,” said Columbus girls basketball coach Jeromey Burke. “I’ve never coached someone who can work as hard as she does for a long as she can.”
Burke sees areas of Riveland’s offensive game that can improve, but he was pleased with her improvement last season, and her all-state selection reflected her growth on that side of the court.
One moment, in particular, stuck out to Riveland and Burke. Columbus and Joliet were tied at the end of their District 4B consolation game, and the Cougars had the ball. Burke called a play designed to give Riveland the last shot, which she sunk just before the buzzer sounded to give her team the win. It was the biggest shot of her career, she said.
“It was just one of those things where you give the ball to the person you feel is ready to win the game for you, and everybody else kinda watched,” Burke said. “We just told her to go win it, and that’s what she did.”
Columbus will need more moments like that and more growth from Riveland in order to break its state drought, especially after graduating four seniors. Both Riveland and Burke stressed that nothing will be given to them, and every Columbus player will need to put in Riveland-like hours to accomplish their state goal.
That cautious optimism has not cancelled out confidence. The Cougars have improved their record in each of Riveland’s seasons — two wins when she was a freshman, eight her sophomore year and 14 last year. Burke isn’t guaranteeing another uptick, but with Riveland on his team, he’d hardly be surprised if it happened.
“When she shows up to the gym, she leaves with a sweat. She shows up to work," Burke said. "That’s a big hump to get over, and it’s starting to show. It’s starting to filter down to other girls.”