For three years, Riley Behan was content to sit back on defense and watch, to be a role player and not the focal point. This season, however, that role has changed as the Assumption senior has taken over the reins after the Knights soccer team graduated a senior class that won four consecutive Class 1A championships.
That class included several standouts, including four-time Gatorade Iowa Girls Soccer Player of the Year and All-American Rose Ripslinger, and Behan is trying to bring the lessons she learned from her former teammates to a roster that has 13 underclassmen.
"I guess I have been watching the last three years," Behan said. "They were great role models for me so I want to be the great role model for the teammates under me because then hopefully that tradition of leadership will continue on for the next couple of years."
A member of five state champion teams in her high school career, Behan went through a similar adjustment in basketball, coming into a program as a freshman that was in the midst of winning three straight state titles. After that streak was snapped her junior year, Behan was thrust into the spotlight on the hardwood this last season and shined, leading the team in points and earning first-team all-conference honors as a point guard.
Now in a similar situation on the pitch, Behan has once again proven up to the task, as she has already matched her career highs with with nine goals and four assists, both of which lead the team.
Behan said the experience she gained from the basketball season made the transition into a leadership role in the soccer season a more seamless one, something head coach Jonathan Dreasler agrees with.
"She's really been that team leader, the general in the back of the field making sure the girls are doing what they need to be doing," he said. "I’ve had 100 percent confidence in her since the day I met her four years ago."
Playing primarily as a defender the first three years, Behan's offensive potential has been unlocked by being flexed into more of a defensive midfield position with the green light to attack if Dreasler sees an opportunity.
"It’s perfect for me," Behan said. "I can still play defense but I have that freedom to go up and make plays happen ... I feel like I’m contributing not only to the defense but also the offense so I feel like I’m leading more as an example on the field."
Growing up, Behan watched her cousin Angie Guy play at Western Illinois and knew she wanted to continue playing at the college level. However, with not a lot of interest and feeling like she had exhausted all of her options, Behan resigned herself to the possibility of this being her last season of competitive soccer. That changed while on vacation last summer as she received a text from former teammate and current Iowa State midfielder Danielle Moore telling her to come to the Cyclones' Elite Residential Camp, an opportunity for high school girls to experience the rigors of college soccer, practicing eight hours a day for three days.
Once Behan signed her letter of intent with the Cyclones in February, she knew she had made the right choice.
"That had always been my dream," she said. "I know it’s not going to be an easy task and it’s something I’m going to have to really work for because I feel like I’m kind of going in as an underdog so I am doing all I can now in practices, I’m doing all I can fitness-wise and I’m really pushing myself to be a better player."
Behan's expectations for the Knights are just as high as ever — get to state and win state. However there's still a lot of work to be done before dreams of a fifth straight title can creep into the players' heads as the Knights are currently 4-6 and ranked third in Class 1A.
Being an underdog as a defending state champion is nothing new to Assumption, which entered last year's state tournament as the fifth seed before knocking off top-ranked Sioux City Heelan and No. 2 Nevada to win the title. If the Knights make it back to Des Moines, Behan is confident they can once again make some noise.
"I know we still have that pressure on our backs to win every game but it's a different kind of pressure," Behan said. "It's a pressure that's helping us in a way ... it allows us to gain some confidence ... so we can play the soccer that we love."