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Prognosticator Rivas Leads Wilson to Top

March 29, 2003|John Ortega | Times Staff Writer

If one wants to have a fun, relaxed, soccer season, one should probably refrain from making any bold predictions before the season.

Saying your team is going to win a Southern Section title is a good way to put pressure on you and your teammates.

Yet, senior midfielder Sammy Rivas of Long Beach Wilson said he wasn't going out on the limb when he predicted -- correctly, it turned out -- that the Bruins would win their first Division I title.

"The way we had the team set up was just right," said Rivas, The Times' boys' soccer player of the year. "We had a goalkeeper who was very active. We had defenders who could defend, strikers who could strike and midfielders who could distribute the ball.

"I looked at who we had coming back for our team and what other teams had lost from the previous season and figured we had the best combination of anyone."

Although Wilson had no players on its roster who had played on Olympic Development Program teams and only two who played on premier-level club teams, the Bruins had five starters returning from a team that advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Division I playoffs the previous season. Wilson also had a talented transfer from Los Alamitos in forward Adam Clayton and several other returning players with varsity experience.

"He never once doubted that we were going to win [the Division I title] and I think his teammates fed off that," Coach Sean Kennedy said of Rivas. "I thought we'd be lucky to equal our quarterfinal appearance of the previous season."

Kennedy, who just completed his eighth season at Wilson, was not being pessimistic.

He knew that there were Division I teams such as Santa Margarita that had more talent than Wilson. And he realized that a certain amount of luck was needed to win a section title.

Wilson won its first nine games before suffering a shootout loss -- which counted as a tie in its record -- to San Clemente in the first round of Huntington Beach Marina tournament.

Undeterred, the Bruins won their final four games of that tournament, posted an 8-0-4 record in Moore League play to tie for the league title with Long Beach Millikan and entered the Division I playoffs as the top-seeded team.

Rivas, the Southern Section Division I offensive player of the year, couldn't play in the first round of the playoffs after receiving two yellow cards in the regular-season finale. But Wilson rallied for a 3-1 victory over Bellflower St. John Bosco.

The Bruins came from behind to defeat Etiwanda, 3-2, in the second round before blasting Palmdale Highland, 5-1, in the quarterfinals.

That was followed by a shootout victory over Anaheim Servite in the semifinals and a 3-2 win over Huntington Beach Marina in the Division I title game at Cal State Fullerton that capped a 26-0-5 season and moved Wilson to second in Student Sports magazine's national rankings for the winter season.

"So much of our success was directly attributed to his skills," Kennedy said of Rivas, whose speed and ball-handling abilities helped him tally 16 goals and 18 assists and earn a scholarship from Cal State Fullerton. "He's a very mild-mannered kid off the field, but he's extremely competitive on it. Every ball, he believes, belongs to him."

Rivas, whose smallish 5-foot-6, 130-pound stature hurt him in the eyes of some college recruiters, said much of Wilson's success was the result of simply having fun.

"Everybody on the team likes playing together," Rivas said. "Our goal all season was to have fun. "Even before the [section] championship game, we were saying, 'Let's just go out there, relax and have fun.' "




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