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    Wilson sisters creating a legacy at Independence


    As the daughters of former National Hockey League player Mike Wilson, Riley and Hanna Wilson were destined to become standout student-athletes.

    While the Wilson sisters, who have a younger sibling named Haley, were blessed with their father’s height, their mother, Kelly, helped them to develop their athletic skills and passion that would drive them to create a lasting legacy at Independence High School.

    “When we moved into Independence, Mike used to run a hockey training center back in the day and he’d be gone all day so I’d be keeping the three girls busy in the front yard,” said Kelly Wilson. “I’d play soccer with the little one and then volleyball with Hanna and then basketball with Riley. I’d do like a 15-minute timer between the three of them.”

    Mike did his part too.

    Each August, he’d set up the volleyball net and paint lines in the grass so the girls could play games with the other kids in the neighborhood.


    Mike Wilson grew up in Ontario, Canada.

    In addition to club hockey, he played high school basketball, but secondary school athletics aren’t as prestigious in Canada, where club sports dominated.

    Now, as the father of two—and soon to be three—standout high school athletes, the former NHL star is enjoying the ride.

    “Growing up in Canada, high school sports are nothing,” Mike Wilson said. “I played high school basketball. Our last class would get out at 2:15 and we’d tip-off at 3:05 and there were literally three kids in the gym watching the game because they were waiting for a ride home. Before I was married and had kids, I didn’t get the whole high school or college thing. For me, it’s been awesome to be a part of it and see the girls and their teams have success.”

    Mike was selected by the Vancouver Canucks with the 20th overall pick in the 1993 NHL draft.

    A few years later, he signed with the Buffalo Sabres and teamed up with Brian Holzinger, a former Padua hockey star.

    Later, Mike attended Holzinger’s wedding, where he met Kelly, a classmate of Holzinger’s and his new wife’s.

    Kelly Wilson grew up in nearby Seven Hills. She played volleyball, basketball and softball at Padua.

    Her mother and her aunt and uncle all attended Independence. Her mother also taught at the school.

    Those family ties have added another dimension to Kelly Wilson’s appreciation for the success of her daughters.

    “It’s been a fun ride,” Kelly Wilson said. “Riley plays her AAU basketball and Hanna has her club volleyball, but it’s so fun to see them play for their school and represent the community. My mom grew up in Independence and taught at the school and my aunt and uncle come to all the games, so it’s neat to go back in history and represent Independence where they all went to school. It’s a really cool feeling.”


    Riley Wilson
    Riley Wilson scored 21 points on Saturday to lead Independence to its first postseason win since 2015

    Riley Wilson is a four-year starter on the Blue Devils’ girls’ basketball team.

    Earlier this season, she scored the 1,000th point of her career and on Saturday she scored 21 points to lead the Blue Devils to their first postseason win since 2015. The team also tied a school record with 22 wins in a season.

    Independence completed the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history.

    While Riley has developed into one of the school’s all-time best basketball players, she just as easily could have starred on the Blue Devils’ soccer team.

    “Riley always loved soccer,” Kelly Wilson said. “She got into basketball probably around third or fourth grade. She played rec and then they started a travel team so she’s played with Haylee Dmitruk and Bella Shumay and Brooklyn Pillar and Reni Kaiser, and a couple girls that have gone to different high schools. They’ve all played on a travel team for years. She always did soccer and basketball until she got to high school.”

    Diagnosed with Osgood–Schlatter disease in the summer before her ninth-grade year, Riley gave up soccer to focus on basketball.

    “She had it really bad,” Mike Wilson said. “I think she was in too much pain that summer to do it all.”

    Hanna Wilson, a sophomore, has had a similar impact during her two seasons on the Independence volleyball team.

    Hanna Wilson attempts a kill in the Division III state championship game

    The Blue Devils played in back-to-back Division III state championship games in 2018 and 2019.

    “Seeing our teams succeed has always been our main goal,” Riley Wilson said. “Hanna and I have both worked hard in the offseason to become better players and teammates during our school seasons. Getting to see our hard work pay off in playoff runs and school records make every practice and game worth it.”

    Like her older sister, Hanna Wilson started out as a multi-sport athlete.

    She played soccer, basketball, volleyball, swam and even danced. She also was the only Wilson sister to try to follow in her father’s footsteps when as a five-year-old she gave hockey a try.

    “We think we probably tried that a little too early,” Kelly Wilson said. “Maybe if we waited another year and she might have stuck with hockey. She only wanted to go out there when Mike was out there with her. He was trying to get her to skate with other people and she did not like that.”

    Riley and Hanna played a couple of years of coach-pitch softball together but, for the most part, they forged their own paths.

    It was six years ago when, as a seventh-grader, Riley joined an AAU basketball team and Hanna, who was in fifth grade at the time, began playing JO volleyball.

    Throughout their journeys, they have remained close and continue to inspire each other.

    “Even though we play different sports, we’re still each other’s biggest fans and love to cheer each other on at every game,” Riley Wilson said.

    As for Hanna, she learned a lot from watching her older sister.

    “Riley set a great example of what a great student-athlete and leader should be,” Hanna Wilson said. “I hope I can follow in her footsteps.”

    While their sisterly bond is strong, they had their competitive moments.

    “We used to play a lot of one-on-one basketball and have some intense family volleyball games,” Hanna Wilson said. “Riley once broke my pinky finger playing volleyball at the park. We were peppering and she hit a ball at my head, so I covered my face.”


    Mike Wilson’s hockey career spanned over 25 years.

    He played in several different professional hockey leagues and even spent time overseas. He hung up the skates in 2011 when the girls were hitting their stride in youth sports.

    Watching their father play added even more inspiration for the girls to follow their own dreams.

    “Seeing my dad play in the NHL helped me see that if you work hard enough you can achieve anything,” Riley Wilson said. “My dad has taught me how to stay mentally strong and learn from each of my mistakes. Both of my parents have taught me to work hard in everything that I do and never give up.”

    Mike’s career has had a positive effect on Hanna as well.

    “He has helped me a lot with my mental toughness and visualization,” she said. “He keeps me thinking positive.”


    Haley Wilson, a sixth-grader, has big shoes to fill when she finally makes her way to Independence High School.

    But, she’ll be ready to live up to the family name when she gets there.

    “She was kind of joking around, ‘They haven’t even seen me yet,’” Kelly Wilson said. “I think she’s pretty excited. We were kind of bummed because of the way it works out age-wise; it would have been cool if Hanna was a senior and Haley was a freshman but Hanna will graduate before Haley starts at Independence High School. There will be another Wilson coming up to do her own thing.”

    Haley plays basketball and volleyball but it looks like she’ll be following in Hanna’s footsteps.

    “Her passion is definitely volleyball,” Kelly Wilson said. “I know Riley was hoping she could get her to go the basketball route.”

    The youngest of the Wilson sisters, Haley hates to miss her older sisters play but she’s now at that point in her career where she’s spending a lot more time on the court instead of in the bleachers.

    “She doesn’t like to miss their games,” Kelly Wilson said of Haley. “She likes to be at all their games but now she’s getting busy because she’s playing her club volleyball too. I think she’s been anxious to get started to do her own thing because she’s watched them be involved and play and do all these things. She’s been anxious to get at it but it’s fun sitting next to her at the games because she gets into it as much as we do.”


    Regardless of what Haley achieves in high school, the Wilson sister certainly will leave behind a legacy at Independence High School.

    The success of the volleyball and basketball teams is unprecedented and the Wilson family has played a key role in raising the bar for future Blue Devils.

    “I think it’s great and I think it’s kind of great timing too,” Mike Wilson said of Independence’s recent good fortune. “When you look at the volleyball team with Maddy (Bilinovic) and all the seniors last year and the seniors this year, and Hanna is just another piece of that. With the basketball team, obviously you’ve got Haylee and Riley out there. I think Haylee is as good in this conference as anyone as a player. Madison (Stepanik) and Riccela (DiGeronimo) stepping up and then Anna (Weber), you just have all those pieces fall into place. For our girls to be a part of it, it’s been a blast.”

    Steve Hare
    The creator and publisher of, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for, a member of the network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. was created in 2004 and was a member of the network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.
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