At St. Mary’s, we are proud to have some of the best student-athletes from across the country and the world competing for us as Lightning Athletes! Our athletes strive for excellence in their sport and are a source of inspiration, excitement and pride at St. Mary’s. This month, we are sharing a new profile focused on our dual sport athlete, Riley Follensbee.

Currently in his third year at StMU and studying history, Riley hopes to enter the acclaimed education program at St. Mary’s after completing his bachelor’s degree. Down the road, he eventually wants to attain a master’s degree and hopefully become a principal or administrator.

Riley says his favorite part of being a StMU student is the close-knit community that we have fostered here on campus. Being a small university allows the students, faculty and staff to get to know each other on a different level. “It’s not uncommon to see faculty or maintenance staff at our basketball games,” says Riley. “I don’t know if bigger universities get this kind of support across the whole university; It feels like everyone at StMU supports everyone at StMU,” he adds.

Riley, pictured top left, after competing at Nationals with our XC team.

As a Lightning Athlete, Riley represents StMU both on the court and the field. As a member of our basketball and cross country team, he is one of the few dual sport athletes on campus.

Riley has been passionate for basketball since childhood, after joining a community basketball league and falling in love with the sport, playing throughout elementary, junior high and high school.

Riley competing at XC Nationals in Medicine Hat earlier this month

Riley first got involved in serious cross country this year, but started running cross country in elementary school around the age of 10. He was encouraged by his head coach, Nathan Ruff, to think about joining the cross country team as he thought Riley would be capable of performing in both sports.

Riley has been a competitor his entire life; growing up with two older siblings who excelled in their respective sports and pushed him to want to be his best. Riley says competing feels different depending on what sport he is playing, but no matter what, he tries his best to win consistently.

In cross country, he competes against himself to set a personal best in every race. “It’s a different feeling when I compete on the court because it’s our team versus the other. My drive to win pushes my teammates during the week in preparation for our games and against our opponents on the weekend,” explains Riley.

“Riley is one of those special character guys that as a coach you never have to worry about. He is a tremendous student athlete and we are lucky that he is part of the Lightning family,” adds Basketball Head Coach and Lightning Athletics Director, Nathan Ruff.

“Not only is he a dual sport athlete, competing in Cross Country and Men’s Basketball for us, he is also a Dean’s list student. We all benefit and learn from his competitive spirit and how he holds his teammates accountable, always gives his best effort every day and is incredible for our locker room.”

Riley, pictured second from left in the front row, with the Lightning Men’s Basketball team

Riley chose to become a Lightning Athlete because he recognized the unique nature of our athletics program. “I was recruited in 2020 during the height of COVID-19, which made things very difficult as an athlete to find a place to play, and St. Mary’s gave me that opportunity,” says Riley. “Throughout my conversations with Coach Ruff, I could tell that this program was a good fit for me as it represented some of my core values: integrity, hard work, responsibility, and community. In addition, I could tell that I would become a far greater person at St. Mary’s than any other University I could have chosen,” he adds.

Being a Lightning Athlete gives Riley a great source of pride. “Each year that I have been at StMU, we have continued to get better,” he says. “I love being a part of this growth.” It also means that Riley accomplished one of his goals in high school, which was to play basketball at the next level.

In addition, he enjoys being part of Lightning Athletics because of the camaraderie within the basketball program and throughout the school. “The way professors and students ask about basketball is essential as an athlete to see that involvement from the community,” Riley adds.

Riley explains the challenges of being a dual athlete but would never want to change his position. “It feels great to be able to do both; I feel like I’m getting the most out of my eligibility that other athletes don’t get the opportunity to have,” he says.

However, being a dual athlete is incredibly taxing on his mind and body. Riley is studying five classes and also has to attend training, practices, and games. But these obstacles have taught Riley how to improve his time management skills, so that he does not get weighed down by school. He is thankful for this challenge because it prepares him for his future.

Riley has enjoyed basketball ever since he started playing as a kid. “But my favorite part of basketball is when the game is just flowing, and I’m so focused that I forget about everything else – I am fully present in that moment,” he says. “What I enjoy most about cross country is the conditioning for basketball, primarily,” Riley explains.

However, cross country is primarily an individual sport; therefore, he finds it much more mentally challenging than physically. “There are instances during races where I want to give up, but once I get through it and finish the race, it is truly worthwhile,” says Riley.

Riley’s academic goals for this year are to achieve a 3.5 GPA or higher and make the Dean’s list. As for athletic pursuits, he hopes to help contribute to a championship this year in basketball. He also hopes to contribute to a medal for the men’s cross country team.

“Personally, I hope to be a CCAA All-Canadian at least once by the time I leave StMU,” he explains. “I want to leave a legacy of hard work and dedication to Lightning Athletics.”

Go Lightning!