By AJ Robinson
Junior Riley Welch has become a key contributor for the UMW men’s basketball team this season. The guard is averaging 11.9 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game for the Eagles. He has also had some of his best performances in some of the most pivotal games for the Eagles against ranked opponents and is averaging 16.7 points per game over the past 6 games.
Although Welch is now one of the team’s key players, his college career didn’t start out this way. He suffered a lingering hip injury during his freshman season that caused him to miss the entire preseason with the team. During the regular season, Welch didn’t get much playing time and most games didn’t touch the court. Following his suspension from the team freshman year, Welch heard his wake up call. “My first year playing here, it took me a little while to adjust to the speed of the game and get accustomed to the day-to-day commitment with the team. I loved basketball, but I was immature and not nearly as focused,” Welch said.
In the face of adversity, Welch refused to become discouraged. He dedicated time to working hard both during and outside of practice, took pride in his personal accomplishments and continued to learn each and every day. He claims that his game took a big leap during the summer after his freshman year. “I was in the gym every day working on my shooting, ball handling and stamina,” said Welch.
Sophomore year, he returned to campus healthy and with a newfound focus on and off the court. Head coach Marcus Kahn said that Welch came in producing results on the floor that as a coach he couldn’t ignore. “His ability to consistently make shots [was the reason he started receiving more playing time]. He went from not playing his freshman year to leading the conference in 3-point field goal percentage. It’s hard to keep a player that shoots it that well and works defensively off the floor,” Kahn said.
Anyone that has witnessed Welch’s game will notice his diligence and perseverance on the floor. “His effort on the court has made him into the player he is now. I give Riley all the credit for his offseason work habits and full-time dedication to our program. He is a great kid and somebody with an infectious personality. I’m yet to meet someone who doesn’t like Riley. He embodies what we want to build with our program,” Kahn said.
Welch now leads the CAC in free throw percentage and is eighth in 3-point field goals made.
The team is now 10-5 and are coming off a big win against Randolph-Macon. With only conference play ahead, the program is looking to bring home the first CAC championship title since 2013. Regardless of how they finish this season, the coaching staff will continue to look to build their program with dedicated players like Welch to achieve their ultimate goal, which is to make an NCAA tournament run.
Kahn believes that Welch sets an example for future freshmen coming into UMW’s basketball program, proving that with patience and hard work, anyone can make their way up the depth chart.
“Riley has proven to all, that if you come in, work hard and commit to the program and your classes, good things will happen,” said Kahn. “He has completely changed his role from freshman year by outworking others.”