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Ryan senior back and better than ever

Gianna Rivera returned after missing her junior season with an injury. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Gianna Rivera truly didn’t know what to expect.

Rivera is a senior striker on the Archbishop Ryan High School girls soccer team, and she came into her senior season having played two full seasons of varsity soccer.

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But she never played with anyone on her team before.

Rivera started and was one of the top players in the area as a sophomore, and was poised to have a standout junior season.

Not only did she have the experience of playing two years in the Catholic League, but she was coming off winning a national championship with her Coppa team at Philly Soccer.

She was preparing for her junior year when she suffered what she thought was an inconvenient injury.

Turns out it was much more than that.

“First scrimmage, I was just going one on one with someone and I rolled my ankle, and I felt something happen to my toe,” said Rivera, who lives in Fox Chase. “At first I tried walking it off, I thought it was just something really minor. You know when you have something like that? I didn’t think it was bad at all.

“I went to the doctor after I couldn’t get it right and they told me right away, pretty much, that my season was over. I was really upset because we really thought we were going to be good last year. I thought we’d be very good.”

The Ragdolls were a good team last year, but losing their best player before the season started was quite a blow. With Rivera serving as a spectator and fan, the Ragdolls played well and made the semifinals of the Catholic League playoffs, but that’s as far as they got.

Seeing her team lose while she was sidelined didn’t cheer Rivera up at all. In fact, she couldn’t help but feel guilty.

“People say I was being dramatic, but it was really hard for me, just knowing they needed me and I couldn’t help them,” Rivera said. “I stayed around, I wanted to be there for everyone, I was going to practices and every game. I wasn’t able to play, but I wanted to support them. But your main goal is to help them, and you can’t do it because you’re hurt.

“I got cleared in January and started physical therapy. In February I could play again. It felt so good to play again. I was a little nervous at first, it was definitely a big adjustment to get back there, but I was able to work through it.”

Now, she’s back doing what she does best, helping the Ragdolls return to being one of the elite programs in the Catholic League.

Last year was a tough one for Ryan. Not only did they lose their top player, but their coach Scarlett Walsh had to miss some time because she had a baby.

But it worked out well. Not only did Walsh have a healthy baby, but assistant coach Meg Manion took over the team, and now she’s in her first year as the head coach.

Behind the new coach and the returning player, Ryan is 6-0-1, making the Ragdolls the only team in the league without a loss. They also have a 2-1 double-overtime victory over Archbishop Wood, which won the 2022 Catholic League crown.

Rivera is happy that her squad is playing the way it is, but she wasn’t sure how it would work out. While she played two years ago for the Ragdolls, she had never played with any of the girls on this year’s team.

“I didn’t know where we stood, but I’m really happy,” Rivera said. “Most of last year, our starters were seniors so we lost a big chunk of our team. I knew it would be a big adjustment, but so far so good. We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores who are playing great. I’m so proud of the team.

“It’s a big adjustment playing high school soccer, especially in the Catholic League, but they’re doing great. They’re playing hard and really helping us.”

Rivera has done a lot in her soccer career, but she still has some items to check off. The biggest one is winning a Catholic League championship.

Rivera attended Little Flower as a freshman, then lost in the finals as a sophomore at Ryan. That gives her one more chance at winning one.

She also has big goals after Ryan, when she heads to Kutztown. There she’ll have some familiar faces. Ryan grads Chelsea Ritter and Carly Walsh are already playing for the Golden Bears. Another friend, Maura Day, is also there. She’s excited about playing, also excited about learning in the classroom.

“I’m going to major in physical therapy,” Rivera said. “It was actually the incident that happened with my foot that made me want to pick it. I got so much help, my physical therapist was so supportive and helped me through a really tough time. She supported me, helped me come back stronger than I was, and kept me motivated. If I could do that for someone, that would be really cool.”

Nearly as cool as winning a Catholic League championship.

The Ragdolls are proving during the regular season they’re a tough team.

Rivera plans on making that stand up in the playoffs.

“I’m surprised but I’m not,” said Rivera, who credits her family, including her dad, for coaching her, and her mom for being the most supportive. “There are a lot of good teams out there, but we worked really hard. We give it 110 percent, so we’re working for it. I think it’s the way we go into games, we get there nice and early, get ready in the locker room, the energy is so high and we bring it out on the field.

“I didn’t play with these girls before, but I knew they were talented. It’s going really well. And (Manion) has been a great coach. She was great the whole time she’s been here, and we were so happy she got the job.

“The Catholic League is so tough, we play so many tough games and the playoffs will be hard. I’m really excited. I think everyone is. It’s been a fun season.”

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