In his first start for the Northwestern High School boys basketball team, Riley Stowers put up five points.
Four games later, he led the Tigers with 16 points.
Head coach David Gustafson raved about the sophomore’s deceptive speed after the game and made a confident prediction. Stowers — along with three sophomore teammates who had joined him in the scoring column that night — would soon have Northwestern mentioned alongside the top teams in northern Wisconsin.
“We expect a lot out of those guys for a few years for sure,” Gustafson said in 2014.
In his three seasons starting for the Tigers, Stowers helped Northwestern to a combined 57-16 record.
The Tigers won three regional championships and two Heart O’ North Conference championships during that time.
Stowers, the 2017 Superior Telegram Boys Basketball Player of the Year, showed steady progress in his three years as the Tigers’ point guard.
His scoring average jumped three points from his sophomore to his junior year, and it climbed six more points this year as he led Northwestern with 18.9 points per game.
“Riley can score in a variety of ways,” Gustafson said “He is great at attacking the basket and finishing around and through players in multiple ways with excellent body control.”
Opponents have struggled against Stowers’ quick first step and perimeter shooting since his sophomore season, but what set the senior apart this year was a new addition to his scoring arsenal.
“He developed a great pull-up jump shot to be able to score with someone in his face,” Gustafson said.
Stowers began working on the shot toward the end of his junior season and continued to get in repetitions over the offseason. By the start of his senior year, Stowers had complete confidence in his pull-up shot.
“About a year ago, someone said something to Coach about me needing to develop a jump shot,” Stowers said. “I realized that’s what I needed to reach the next level, so I worked on it.”
And the work paid off.
Stowers scored 28 points in his season debut and followed that up with a 31-point performance against Rice Lake. Another big tally in Northwestern’s conference opener — 21 points — gave Stowers a 26.7-point scoring average over the first three games of his senior season.
“I think teams were a little bit surprised,” Stowers said.
They soon shifted defenders to limit the Tiger point guard, but that left teammates open and allowed Stowers to add to his assists total.
The senior led Northwestern with 78 assists (3.1 per game) and 71 steals (2.8 per game) this season.
He was named to the HON All-Conference first team after being named to the second team last year and honorable mention in his sophomore season.
“Riley is a great defender,” Gustafson said. “He uses his lanky arms well to get lots of steals and has a great burst of speed to separate himself from others in the open court.”
Stowers also reached a personal milestone this season by scoring 1,000 career points. He scored his 1,000th point in Northwestern’s final game of the season, a loss to Prescott in the sectional semifinals.
“It sucks that we lost the game that I got it in, but it was a special moment,” Stowers said.
Stowers finished his three-year varsity career with 1,001 total points. Only five other Tigers in school history have scored 1,000 career points.
Stowers said he felt honored to be included on that list, but scoring 1,000 points was not the highlight of his season.
“Winning the regional title (this year) hands down was the most memorable,” he said.
The Tigers’ one-point victory in Maple held extra meaning because of Northwestern’s opponent — the Hayward Hurricanes.
During the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, Hayward and Northwestern split their regular season match-ups, with two of those games decided in overtime. Hayward snatched the conference title away from Northwestern in Stowers’ sophomore year, but the Tigers finished first in 2016 and tied with Hayward and Bloomer this season.
“We’ve been playing against them in close competition since sixth-grade,” Stowers said. “They’ve always been there.”
This season, Northwestern won all three of its match-ups with Hayward. The Tigers claimed double-digit wins in the regular season, and in the regional finals they outlasted Hayward in the final minute to win 59-58.
Stowers led Northwestern with 21 points, but he says the play of his senior teammates put the Tigers over the top.
“Most of us, we’ve played together since sixth-grade,” Stowers said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys. I love them all.”
The Tigers finished this season 20-5 overall and 12-2 in the HON Conference. They repeated as conference champions for just the second time in school history and became the first team to reach 20 wins in a season since 2010-11.
“It was a great ride. I’m definitely going to miss it,” Stowers said. “Even if I play college ball, it’s not going to be the same as playing with those guys.”
Stowers said he has not made a decision about where he’d like to attend college next year, but he hopes to continue playing basketball.
On that front, Gustafson has no doubts.
“Riley will be playing college basketball for someone next season,” he said.
2017 - Riley Stowers (1,001)
2017 - Alex Tecker (1,137)
2010 - Donnie Hissa (1,051)
2010 - Steve Tecker (1,271)*
1998 - Ryan Moore (1,247)
1983 - Scott Raivala
* NHS all-time leading scorer
Superior Telegram Players of the Years
2017 — Riley Stowers, Sr., Northwestern
2016 — Brandon Myer, Sr., Superior
2015 — Superior (starting five — Nick Mehlum, Connor Gray, Jake Libal, Brandon Myer, Brett Lozon)
2014 — Daniel Gengenbach, Sr., Solon Springs
2013 — Erick Tunell, Sr., Superior
2012 — Phil Larson, Sr., Solon Springs
2011 — Joel Lindberg, Sr., Superior
2010 — Joel Lindberg, Jr., Superior
2009 — Steve Tecker, Jr., Northwestern
2008 — Dustin Ritchie, Sr., Superior
2007 — Bart Bailey, Sr., Superior
2006 — Eric Thompson, Sr., Superior
2005 — Jimmy Glaeser, Sr., Northwestern
2004 — Jesse Taylor, Sr., Maranatha
2003 — Keith Ritsche, Sr., Superior
2002 — Alex Maas, Sr., Northwood