By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Riley Walz felt he had the potential to be a varsity player for the Quincy Notre Dame boys basketball team. To do that, the 5-foot-11, 160-pound junior guard needed to turn his attention to developing a particular skill set.
His focus had to be on defense.
"Last year, I didn't get a chance to play as much on varsity," Walz said. "I knew I could and I was determined this summer to work hard. One of my main strengths is scoring, and I knew I had to step up on defense, too, to get on the court. I've been trying hardest on defense first."
After being given an expanded role, Walz shined in the Raiders' season opener against Knox County. He scored a career-high 16 points and has been a key cog in QND's 6-0 start, the Raiders' best start since the 2007-08 season. He is averaging 8.1 points per game and shooting 63 percent (19 of 30) from the field.
"Riley can score in a variety of ways," QND coach Scott Douglas said. "He shoots it good, he puts in on the floor. He has a nice mid-range game, he can get to the basket and has the whole offensive repertoire. He's starting to understand how to use it and use it effectively. He's a threat off the bench to put the ball in the basket."
Scoring always came naturally to Walz. What he lacked was strength. So last summer, Walz focused as much on weight training as he did improving his other skills.
Walz isn't physically imposing by any means, but he's not getting pushed around as much.
"I can actually tell the difference," Walz said. "Last year, I got pushed around a little bit. I feel stronger with the ball and don't get pushed around as much. I can tell the difference."
Defensively, QND has created a lot of turnovers. Teammates have pointed out how Walz has helped the Raiders turn up the pressure.
"Riley is an interesting player because he has so much athleticism," QND coach Alex Fitch said. "When he comes in, he mixes it up on defense. … It picks up the intensity of the whole team a little bit."
Now that he's earned valuable varsity minutes, Walz's focus has changed.
It's clearly on helping the Raiders continue their winning ways.
"It's going really great, the best players are stepping up," Walz said. "We feel like every player on the team can bring intensity on the floor. If one of the starters having a tough couple possessions, we can bring a player off the bench to help lift up the team with intensity. We think everyone on the team has something to bring to the table."