ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – Elizabethton junior Reiley Whitson has been playing basketball from an early age, but it took her a year or two to find her way to the hardwood.

“I was originally a cheerleader from Kindergarten to first grade – absolutely hated it,” she explained.

Since putting down the pom-poms and picking up a basketball, she’s fallen in love with the game and the beauty of team sports.

“I love how it’s five different people, but you all have to play as one to win or to be successful,” Whitson said. “It’s five different people all playing with one mind and one heart and I really appreciate that – being able to be there for one another, but having one common goal at the end.”

Whitson enjoys playing for the Lady Cyclones alongside her cousin, senior Renna Lane. But, the way she talks about her teammates, you would think the whole squad is related.

“We’re really positive with one another, we really lift one another up,” Whitson said. “We’ve all played together, whether that was travel, school ball, so we all are more sisters than we are teammates, for sure.”

On top of the sisterly connection, Whitson believes the team’s work ethic sets them apart from the competition.

“Honestly, we are just really hard-working, there isn’t a day that goes by we aren’t really working hard – and working hard with a purpose,” she said. “We have a common goal and a common vision.”

The Lady Cyclones finished the 2021-22 season with a record of 25-7 – winning both a regional and sectional titles before falling to Upperman in the state quarterfinals. This year, the group is trying to take things one game at a time, but they have their eyes on the ultimate prize.

“[We] don’t want to get our carts in front of our horses, but obviously to win state,” she said.

Whitson works hard and with a purpose in the classroom, as well. The junior just recently took the ACT, scoring a 33 out of a possible 36 points.

Balancing school and sports has never been easy for Whitson.

“I’m not going to lie, it can be really hard and really stressful,” she said.

But, she also believes it is in the imperfect moments that she learns the most about herself.

“You learn from your mistakes – that’s the biggest thing,” she said. “It’s not about how much you fail or if you fail, it’s about when you fail, coming back and how you respond to those failures.”

As an aspiring Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA), Whitson volunteers her time with the future health professionals organization, HOSA. She and other similarly-driven students help with local blood drives and at other local healthcare organizations in the community.

“Getting to help people I know – strangers, friends, people I know – I just really enjoy getting to help others,” she said.

Her passion for service isn’t so surprising as someone who prefers an assist over scoring two points.