Joyce Stefancik's program was hit hard by graduation.
And in the wake of winning a second consecutive state championship, the Severna Park girls soccer coach wanted an early indication of just how good this year's Falcons' squad would be. So the 12th-year coach conducted a preseason experiment in a scrimmage against St. Mary's.
"(Tina Riley) didn't play the first part of the game and they scored a couple of quick goals, bang, bang," said Stefancik. "She's a steady, very dependable player and that game was a quick indication of how much we needed her."
After that, Stefancik saw no need to tamper with a defense which, directed by the 18-year-old Riley, helped the Falcons (16-0) win their third consecutive Class 4A/3A state title.
"I may have taken her out for five minutes of one other game," said Stefancik, who has an overall 121-28-3 record. "But she's been on varsity all four years and has spent very little time on the bench."
Riley, the 1990 Anne Arundel County Sun Player of the Year, is yet another in a long line of great Severna Park players, like midfielder Betsy Elder, last year's 4A/3A Player of the Year, and former All-County defender Gina Roberts.
Riley is on every all-star list in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan areas. Riley is a two-time All-County player as well as an All-Metro selection by The Washington Post, The Sun and The Evening Sun.
The last three years, Riley has been a part of defenses that have allowed 16 goals, helping the Falcons to post a 46-0-1 record in that period.
"I remember having those players as great role models when I was a freshman being pulled up during the second scrimmage of the season," said Riley.
"I was playing fullback and I wasn't very talkative. I didn't pass the ball. I just sort of kicked the ball around. As a sophomore, Coach Stefancik and (former assistant coach Wayne Sanchez) always had to tell me where I was supposed to be."
Since then, Riley, who also excels in basketball and lacrosse, has become tactically sound.
"My early experiences on those teams really prepared me for this year," said Riley. "I really wanted to be a leader on the field on defense and on offense. I just wanted to follow the example set by the players who came before me."
At 5-foot-8 , Riley was the standard by which many area defenders were measured this year. Take, for example, the Falcons' 2-1 come-from-behind state championship victory over Oakland Mills.
When the Falcons fell behind, 1-0, early in the second half they were facing a deficit for the first time this season. Riley came through as an inspirational leader -- a far cry from the timid freshman she was four years ago.
"In the state game, she was the one saying 'come on, we can do it.' It would have been easy for us to get down but she really made us more confident," said senior striker Michelle Cope, who scored the game-winning goal. "She's complimentary in every situation and she'll give the team a moral boost when we need it."
Against Oakland Mills, Riley also handled the tough job of marking former under-19 regional team member Mia Dammen, the Scorpions' chief playmaker.
"Coach Stefancik would always take me aside for tough games and tell me to watch the other team's best players," said Riley. "I was really ready for (Oakland Mills). I heard they were already celebrating because they thought they dominated us when we played them the first time (a 2-1 Severna Park victory)."
Tina was the quarterback of a defense that limited opponents to seven goals. Her resilience helped her twin sister and the team's goalkeeper, Tami, to record nine shutouts. Tami has 32 career shutouts.
And with three goals and five assists -- including the game-winning goal in the Falcons' 2-0 Region III victory over Broadneck -- Riley fulfilled another goal by becoming an offensive threat.
"She was particularly effective on corner kicks -- that's how she scored all of her goals," said Stefancik. "Tina is the tie that binds. She and her sister are two of the best athletes I've had in my 12 years."