NEW BRITAIN - Prior to her senior season, Ariana Rivas wasnâ€™t sure if she would even play her final year for the Innovation girls soccer team, as she tried to gauge her overall interest in a sport that had never truly grabbed her desire.
Just a few short months later, Rivas has an All-State award to her name and is hoping to turn a strong senior season into a collegiate career.
After being recognized as one of the top players in Connecticut this past fall, Rivas is planning to make a push to play college soccer, continuing a drastic transformation from this past offseason, after Rivas had been kicked off the team and believed her soccer career was over.
Turns out, it was far from it.
â€śMy freshman year, I really didnâ€™t get much playing time because the upperclassmen were good,â€ť Rivas said. â€śIt made me want to strive and be like them as I got closer to my senior year. But unfortunately my sophomore year had to come to an end because I got injured. My junior year I got kicked off. So I didnâ€™t think I would play soccer my senior year because I didnâ€™t want to. But I talked to my new coach and he told me to play for him.â€ť
Rivasâ€™ new coach, Cristian Irizarry, sat down with Rivas prior to the season and talked about giving the sport another chance.
â€śI always knew the type of player Ariana was,â€ť Irizarry said. â€śI sat down with her and had a conversation with her, and I knew she could accomplish whatever she wanted because she always goes all out. It was just about getting her to commit to it.â€ť
Whether it was a new voice or a desire to give her soccer story at Innovation a different ending, Rivas decided to put on the Ravens uniform for one last season, and within months, became the top vote-getter on the 2020 all-conference team before being named All-State.
â€śIt was actually really unexpected,â€ť Rivas said. â€śI wasnâ€™t expecting it until I felt like I could actually accomplish it. I really didnâ€™t think of soccer as a sport Iâ€™d actually succeed in. I just thought it was something to help me get through high school.â€ť
Rivasâ€™ correlation between athletic participation and academic success was a major bullet point in Irizarryâ€™s pitch to Rivas, who agreed that another season on the field would help keep her on track to succeed in college. She never thought part of her college life would include soccer, but sheâ€™s working on changing that.
â€śIf Iâ€™m playing sports, it pushes me to get better grades,â€ť Rivas said. â€śIf Iâ€™m not, my academics are not as good. But once I felt like I could do something with soccer my senior year, it pushed me to try and play in college.â€ť
Rivas, who went from being kicked off the team to a senior captain and All-State talent, has now watched soccer become much more to her than just another sport to play.
â€śI had played in middle school but I didnâ€™t think much of it,â€ť Rivas said. â€śIt was just a sport to me. Iâ€™m very competitive and love sports, and I play all three seasons of the school year, but I really didnâ€™t have a relationship with soccer. It didnâ€™t really come to me until my senior year.
â€śI didnâ€™t know I could do this well in soccer.â€ť
Rivas has known success before at Innovation, serving as the girls basketball teamâ€™s double-double machine, but never in soccer. Call it a late bloom or whatever you will, but a jump from off the team to on the All-State list was quite the leap in the span of one year.
â€śItâ€™s a big accomplishment for me,â€ť Rivas said. â€śI was never the person to get awards for sports. Soccer, I would rarely get awards, and when I saw I got all-conference, I thought maybe I could get All-State. So that was a big accomplishment.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org