St. Cloud Tech junior Riley Bates cracks skulls as a linebacker for the football team and acts as an enforcer at center for the hockey team.
His style of play is anything but subtle.
But Bates has seamlessly translated his bruiser mentality into an imposing, graceful tennis career, reaching state as an individual alongside the rest of the Tech team last year, earning him an all-conference nod as a sophomore.
“Intensity is how I play,” Bates said. “No matter the sport, I just try to play the best. I’m pretty vocal out there, yelling and stuff. I try to use that to my advantage.
“In football and hockey, you can go hit someone. But tennis is such an individual sport that you can’t get mad at yourself or bring yourself down.”
While Bates is just a junior, his reputation as a skilled athlete and respected opponent has made the rounds to other high schools in St. Cloud.
“I’ve never really played against him, but I’ve seen him play and kind of admired him,” St. Cloud Cathedral senior Josh Robak said. “When you say ‘Riley Bates and tennis,’ you just kind of think about how good he is.”
Bates grew up watching his older brothers Tyler and Myles play while his dad Paul coached the girls team at Tech. His decision to play tennis was essentially made for him as he was surrounded by the sport ever since he was a child. He picked up the game in third grade.
His dad, now the head coach for both the girls and boys teams at Tech, has sculpted his son into a budding tennis star. Bates has undergone a special type of tutelage that most don’t get to experience.
“Playing this many years, Riley adds a little leadership for the players,” Paul Bates said. “Having that playing experience through practices and everything, I think, comes through in matches. He’s got a leg up on the rest of the guys in that sense.”
Bates’ overwhelming capacity for competition got him slightly into trouble, however, during one match two years ago when Bates yelled emphatically after scoring a point. The school director pulled him aside to reprimand him after he thought Bates swore.
“I yelled something pretty loud, like ‘come on’ or something,” Riley said. “Our director thought I yelled a swear word out, so after the match he came out and pulled me aside and kind of scolded me. I thought that was kind of funny.”
After a successful state campaign last season, and being ranked as high as No. 11 in the state, the Tigers hope to build on that success. And with a young squad and a lot of returning talent, Tech is feeling optimistic.
“We have strength all the way down the lineup. More depth,” Riley said. “I think we would all be pretty upset if we didn’t make it back to state. We just want to improve as a team and I just want to keep improving as a player. Getting back to that state tournament … really motivates me to get out there and try my best every time.”
Of the three sports, Bates couldn’t decide which one he liked best.
“I have friend groups in every sport,” Riley said. “I just try to get my friends to come out and join the teams I’m on. It’s a little bit more fun that way.”