Swinging for glory


Though he has yet to earn his degree in engineering, Washburn senior golfer Riley Piles managed to engineer a thrilling finish to his impressive golf career.

The Topeka product walked away from Smithville, Mo., on April 17 with a gold medal in hand after a 6-under 210 in the MIAA Men’s Championship Golf Tournament. The team as a whole took second place, narrowly missing out on a conference title for the third year in a row after winning the MIAA Tournament during the 2008-09 season. Piles had little time to enjoy the victory.

“It’s gratifying. It’s something that I feel I should have done a lot more times,” said Piles.  “But we let the championship slip through our hands.”

The Hayden High School graduate was named to the All-MIAA Golf Team and still has a chance to make some noise in the upcoming NCAA Regional Tournament.

The son of Dan and Jane Piles first gave the game of golf a try when he was 5 years old, after being given his first clubs. Things just took off from there. Piles went on to letter all four years on varsity at Hayden while being on the honor roll all throughout high school. Piles won two regional championships and had three top ten finishes in the high school state tournaments. He knew he wanted to pursue a college career in golf. He also ran cross country in the fall, because his mom didn’t want him to play football, and played basketball during the winter, but his future was in golf.

“At the time I was graduating and looking at schools, I knew I was going to play golf in college,” said Piles.

Piles would have liked to follow in his father’s footsteps and been a Washburn basketball player, but his small frame was better suited for golf. The 5-foot-11, 165 pound Piles picked Washburn University over Denver University to play golf, even though basketball was his favorite sport.

“I wasn’t as skilled at basketball as I was at golf,” said Piles. “Washburn had just taken fifth in nationals and I knew it was the right fit for me.”

Piles won his first collegiate tournament in his sophomore season at the NCAA Division II Championship Preview. The following season, as a junior, he managed to earn All-MIAA Golf Team honors. With consistent scores and top ten finishes, Piles soon became a sturdy frame for the Washburn golf team.

Although Piles has created a blueprint for individual success, the Bods never managed to get over the hump and win a team title in Piles’ four years at Washburn.

“There’s been some good times and some bad times,” said Piles. “In my four years, I’ve never won a team tournament, which has been unfortunate.”

No matter the outcome, golf has been a passion for Piles. Whenever he isn’t on the golf course, the senior engineering major can usually be found hanging out with friends or hitting the books. Or he might be found in Lawrence, Kan., where many of his close friends attend the University of Kansas, the same place Piles hopes to earn his architectural engineering degree once he has graduated from Washburn.

During the offseason, Piles can be found all over the place, working various odd jobs ranging from coffee shops to country clubs to earn some cash.

“It’s kind of weird because I enjoy school and I actually enjoy work,” said Piles.

Come May, Piles will trade in his driver and golf bag for a pencil and drafting board. But for now, the senior golfer has some unfinished business. Washburn still has a chance to make a splash May 7-9 at the NCAA Midwest/South Central Regional Tournament in Jefferson City, Mo., and head on to the NCAA National Golf Championships May 15-19 at Northern Kentucky’s Cardinal Club Golf Course in Simpsonville, Ky.

Piles has a chance to add on to his already solid Washburn legacy and has maybe one final shot at getting the team title he has so long waited for.

Whether they win as a team or not, Piles has made his mark on Washburn golf. Even former NBA great John Stockton didn’t win an NBA championship, but similar to Piles, his legacy will not soon be forgotten.