Park City coach Mikki Clayton describes it as a high lacrosse IQ, while Samantha Riely simply calls it her spidey sense.
Regardless of the terminology used to describe what Riely does on the lacrosse field, there’s no question she plays the game mentally at a higher level than most of her peers.
“She has such a high lacrosse IQ from just the amount she’s played, the amount she’s studied the game and how hard she works, so she sees the field really well,” said Clayton.
Between her skill, athleticism, dedication and humbleness, Riely laid out the blueprint for what an elite girls lacrosse athlete in Utah can achieve and is the obvious choice for the second Deseret News Ms. Lacrosse recipient.
“I can’t say it enough, Sam has been so invaluable to our team, her work ethic, being a role model, she’s so good to the younger girls. Girls who want to get better and who want to continue to play lacrosse can look to emulate Sam and what she’s done and how much work she’s put in. It’s certainly a nice thing for coaches to point to,” said Clayton.
After guiding Park City to a state title as a junior, Riely led the Miners to a 5A runner-up finish this spring as she recorded 62 goals, 39 assists, 38 ground balls and 19 caused turnovers.
While losing a heartbreaker in the championship game stung — especially after beating champion Olympus twice in region play — Riely said it’s given her that extra motivation to work even harder this summer to prepare for college lacrosse at UC Davis.
UC Davis is making the jump to the Pac-12 for women’s lacrosse for the 2024 season.
“It really hurt, I’m going to be honest, it took me a while to get over it and then I decided to watch the game and it helped a little bit. I realized it’s actually good for me because if we would’ve won, I’m amazing, I’m the best. I’m going to do great, I’ve won two state championships in a row, I would’ve gone into college thinking this is going to be easy,” said Riely.
Now she’s recharged to put in the work that helped her reach an elite level in the first place and produced a lacrosse resume that includes dozens of national and regional awards.
The Park City midfielder grew up playing lacrosse in Georgia, but her excitement for the sport increased even more when her family moved to a lacrosse town like Park City when she was in fifth grade.
At a pretty young age, Riely set her sights on being a college lacrosse player. Individually, she was driven and worked extremely hard on her own with shooting, passing and stick work. Finding equal level competition in Utah, however, proved to be tough with the sport relatively new to the state. Though the years she often had to travel out of state to play higher-level club lacrosse to test herself against better competition.
Every game, every camp, every practice, Riely has been absorbing information and improving as a player.
“She asks tons of questions, she’s always wanting to learn more and get better and fine-tune her skills,” said Clayton.
Another way Riely improved herself was on the basketball court at Park City, where she was a varsity contributor all four years. This year she was the starting point guard, and Clayton said the techniques associated with the two sports translate extremely well both offensively and defensively. Clayton said in particular basketball has helped Riely become a better defensive player in lacrosse.
Her bread and butter is on the attack though, where the sports allows her creativity to flourish.
“It’s the creativeness of the sport in general that I love. Say we’re beating a team by 10 goals, I can whip a behind the back or do something like that that’s so much more fun. (In) lacrosse there’s always different ways to find a way to shoot and score. I know I have so much more to learn with lacrosse, too. Watching college lacrosse I’m like ‘dang I can get so much better,’” said Riely.
At times this season, with the level of competition Park City played, Riely said games weren’t that productive.
“We were playing some schools that were technically 5A, but they’d never played lacrosse. We were almost teaching them for the full game and we felt bad and we didn’t want to blow them out of the water, but we needed to get better too,” said Riely.
Practices were often where Riely and her teammates improved the most, and it was all about the fluid style they tried to play.
“Park City girls lacrosse, I think we truly are the best, whole team because we have so many players and we work well as a team. We pride ourselves on passing and assists and whenever we get a chance move the ball. We’re a very unselfish team,” said Riely.
Being immersed in the Park City lacrosse culture for the past seven years and always striving to get better, no matter the inconvenience, has helped Riely reach great heights on the lacrosse fields of Utah. Now she hopes to continue that improvement against teams and players of equal ability.