by Jim Misunas, Special to KSHSAA - Emily Ryan's high-school basketball career at Central Plains High School is legendary.
Ryan owns girls state basketball records for career steals (599), career free throw percentage (90.5 percent), career field goal percentage (.738); season field goal percentage (.796) and best single game free throw percentage (14-14, 100 percent).
In her final high school game against Ingalls, Ryan surpassed the 3,000-point barrier, finishing with 3,007 points to place third all-time behind Claflin's Jackie Stiles (3,603) and Moundridge's Laurie Koehn.
"Jackie Stiles is the reason I really began to love playing basketball," Ryan said. "The trait I've always admired most about Jackie is her tireless work ethic. She's done more for me than she realizes. I'm so lucky I had someone so easy to look up to growing up."
Ryan's most remarkable statistic is a perfect 104-0 record as the Oilers swept three consecutive state basketball titles. A fourth title was prevented when the 2020 state tournament was shut down due to coronavirus concerns. The 2019-2020 Oilers broke state records for margin of victory (57.1 ppg) and least points allowed (21.2 ppg).
The Oiler girls left Dodge City in tears knowing their goal of a seventh consecutive state title wouldn't happen in 2020.
"There was a lot of disappointment," Ryan said. "We had so much fun playing together. We knew we only had two games left. Having those opportunities taken away from us so abruptly was extremely difficult to process."
The missing state championship still haunts Central Plains assistant coach Jim Ryan, Emily's father.
"That was a LONG bus ride home," Jim Ryan said. "That was hard to explain to the girls. We realized how good of a bunch of girls we had. That was the best team we ever had. They were playing so well."
Ryan said she respects head coach Pat Stiles for his basketball acumen.
"Coach Pat's best attribute is that he cares so much," Ryan said. "He spent countless hours watching film and doing whatever he could to put the team in the best position. He has an incredible basketball mind and I was lucky to learn from him for four years."
Central Plains girls basketball coach Pat Stiles has led the Oilers to seven state basketball titles.
"Emily's leadership skills are second-to-none," Stiles said. "She made everyone accountable for working hard and playing the right way. We never had a bad practice, Emily wouldn't allow that!"
Ryan said she has developed her passing skills by knowing her teammates.
"I focus on being the best teammate I can be," she said. "Having teammates good at getting to correct spots is what makes finding them easy. If they do the work to get open and hit the shot, all I have to do is get them the ball.
Stiles said Ryan was a perfect prototype for a point guard.
"Emily is a tremendous passer who sees the floor better than any player I've had," Stiles said. "Teams tried to 'junk defend' us and Emily always made them pay by finding the open shot for a teammate."
Stiles said Ryan's best attribute was her unselfish attitude.Emily Ryan1
"Emily is the ultimate team player, always putting the team ahead of any individual goal," he said. "Her sophomore year, we had a young team. She knew she'd score more for us and she did. Her junior and senior years, with veteran teams, she made her teammates better by sharing the basketball."
Stiles believes Ryan's unselfish style permeated to a playing style where all of the Oilers would make the extra pass in her final two seasons.
"Emily involved her teammates when she could've went after scoring records," Stiles said. "That was a contagious concept with her teammates and made us a formidable team."
Stiles said Ryan's most unappreciated ability was her defensive intensity.
"Her defense was stifling," he said. "Her length was so advantageous on that end. Emily always guarded their best player whether it was a post or guard.
Emily Ryan, now a second-year starter for the nationally-ranked Iowa State Cyclones, said the Oilers carried a "next game," attitude and never talked or thought about a perfect record in four seasons.
Ryan said her parents taught her the team's success is the only statistic that mattered.
"My dad taught me the importance of putting time in if I wanted to be successful," Ryan said. "My parents have done more for me than I could ever put into words. They instilled in me the importance of the success of the team and not individual accomplishments. They never kept track of my stats. The thing they cared about was that I had fun, played hard, and was a good teammate."
Ryan said carving out lifetime memories with close friends is something she's always treasure.
"I don't think about the games we won, but rather the fun memories on the bus, in the locker room, or team meals," she said. "What made it so fun were my teammates and the culture created at Central Plains. Being able to play the game with your best friends and work so hard together is something that was fun day-in and day-out."
Her love affair with basketball began in second grade.
"I really began enjoying the game in second grade," she said. "I always played the game because it was fun and I loved to be on a team. I tried to work hard and let the results take care of themselves."
A year later, her father Jim Ryan became a believer.
"I first thought Emily was going to be 'OK' in third grade when she did a ballhandling routine at a school talent show.," he said. "But I didn't think she would be a Division 1 player until her freshman year."
Pat Stiles noticed Ryan's ability before she started high school.
"We didn't have enough high school girls to play in an MAYB tournament, so we picked Emily (a seveth-grader) to play with us," Stiles said. "She fit in so well and made us better. I knew she was going to be a special player for us."
Ryan was born in a basketball family. The "first date" for Solomon graduate Jim Ryan and Lisa Ryan was a Barton Community College basketball game.
Jim Ryan recalled that Emily hated to lose, something he dealt with one time in her career when Central Plains Junior High lost to Victoria in seventh grade.
"Emily always hated losing," he said. "I knew to give her time and space after a loss."
Ryan has had to adjust mentally at Iowa State after an occasional loss.
"After a loss, the main focus is on what we could've and should've done differently or better. After a loss there's nothing you can do but look in the mirror and find a way to get better."
Ryan said one of her primary goals is to provide a positive role model for youngsters. She's tickled when she hears a story about someone wanting to 'be like Emily Ryan.'
"It means a lot to me, knowing that I was in the exact same shoes not too long ago," she said. "It makes me want to continue to work hard because I want to be someone who is a good role model and sets an example that is positive."