Gianna Rivera wasn’t looking for a new team.
But she couldn’t have found a better one.
Rivera is a sophomore at Archbishop Ryan High School. Last year, she attended Little Flower, but after her brother Donovan was forced to find a new school after Bishop McDevitt closed, Rivera’s parents decided it would be good for both to attend the same school.
That’s how they both ended up at Ryan, and how Rivera ended up on the best girls soccer program in the Catholic League, at least in recent years.
“I loved Little Flower, but we didn’t really have a season last year, so it wasn’t that hard to leave the team,” Rivera said. “I loved everyone there, but we didn’t play in the fall, and then we didn’t have a real season in the spring. It was tough for everyone, we just kind of missed a year of playing soccer together.”
Now she’s at Ryan, a school that has won six of the past eight Catholic League championships.
“It’s great being here because it’s such a good team,” said Rivera, who lives in Lawndale. “It didn’t take long to adjust being here, it’s pretty easy adjusting to everything. They play a high level of soccer and I’m kind of used to playing that kind of soccer, so as soon as I started working out with them, it felt good. I think I’m going to fit in well. I really want to win and they’ve been winning a lot.”
And she’s not the only newcomer at the school.
Joining Rivera in her first year back with the program is Scarlett Walsh, a 2013 graduate of the school who is now the coach of the Ragdolls, replacing Jon Geist.
As Walsh gets acclimated to being the head coach, Rivera is getting used to playing with her new teammates.
“I think it’s helped that we have a new coach because she’s a great coach and we’re all learning how she does things,” Rivera said. “I’ve learned a lot so far from her and from the new team. I think we’re going to keep learning from each other. Everyone is trying to learn how things are going to be, so that might help me. I’m not learning everything by myself, we’re all learning together.
“It helps that everyone has been helpful and trying to help each other. Ryan is a very welcoming place, my brother loves it, too. We’re just trying to learn together.”
Rivera expects success on the soccer field, especially after she enjoyed a great run this summer with her club team, the Coppa Rage.
The Rage, consisting of the top girls soccer players from the area, took second place in the United States Soccer National Championship series, which was played in Bradenton, Florida.
The team, competing against the top teams in the nation, went 4-2 and both of the losses were to the eventual champions from Utah. It wasn’t the end result Rivera and her teammates were looking for, but it certainly gave every player on the team an experience to see how they stack up against the best.
Now they know they’re pretty darn good.
“It was so much fun playing in that tournament,” said Rivera, who plays forward for both the Rage and the Ragdolls. “I think everyone on the team had the same goal and that made us push that much harder. The teamwork brought us closer together. We really wanted to win for each other.”
Playing for the Rage meant making new friends, and she’s almost certain to see those friends all the time while playing in the Catholic League.
The Rage are coached by Wood coach Tom DeGeorge, and there are players from his team, as well as many other Catholic League schools on Coppa.
“It’s fun to play against your friends, and I think that will make the season better,” said Rivera, who is joined by Rage teammate Samantha Pastino on Ryan. “It’s hard to play against them because they’re your friends, but it’s fun to play, too. You want to win. It’s a friendly competition. I want them to do well, too, but I want to beat them.”
Rivera, who scored two goals and four assists during the summer tournament and was named the best 11 in her age group, has always been around high-level soccer growing up.
She has two older brothers and an older sister who played soccer and she learned a lot from them.
“I was always going to their games and they were good, they were always working really hard,” Rivera said. “I think me and my brother learned a lot from them, because they put in so much work. If you want to play at a high level, you have to do that.
“My brother works hard. I think that helps us be better. We both learned that if you don’t work hard, you won’t reach your goals. We learned that from our family, our siblings and our parents. They love soccer and they told us that’s really important.”
But Rivera also wants to have fun.
And the honor student believes she’s right where she needs to be for soccer and fun.
“I’m really happy to be here, it’s a great school,” Rivera said. “Soccer has been great, I’m starting to feel at home. Everything has been working out.”