She hopes continued improvement will put her in 2020 Olympics
By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
A quarter of an inch can be the difference between victory and defeat in track and field. So you’d think Sophia Rivera would talk about numbers a lot.
She’s the second best female high school javelin thrower in the United States. She won the national indoor title in the shot put. She has four state gold medals in the shot put and discus throw. And yet she never talks publicly about how far she wants to throw. Even now as she’s preparing for tomorrow’s sectional meet and next week’s state championships, she says her goals are not numeric.
“I personally never really want number goals,” she said. “I always go for form and technique.”
But in an interview with The Brentwood Spirit recently she admitted she does have two numeric goals. The numbers are 2016 and 2020. She wants to compete in the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., and in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
She also talked about how much she’s grown this year as a result of her mother taking a job in Georgia and her family’s decision to delay moving there until she graduates next May.
Pursued by ‘a lot of schools’
The Olympic trials start next July 1, only a month after Rivera will have graduated from BHS. By then she will also have decided where to attend college on a track and field scholarship.
“I definitely want to go to college for track and field,” she said. “I want to get a scholarship then go to a good school and get a good education. Past that my goal is to go to the Olympics. Currently my plan is I’m going to try to make it to the Olympic trials for 2016. Hopefully I’ll get that under my belt so then my goal will be to make the 2020 Olympics.”
She won’t say which schools have contacted her or which ones she favors.
“There have been a lot of schools but I haven’t narrowed it down, I’m trying to keep my options open right now,” she said. “So far I’ve looked at schools from all over. I’ve taken a bunch of unofficial visits. I don’t think I will narrow it down until my senior year when I take my five [college] visits. I really just want to get to know the programs, coaches, all of that, before I decide. For me it’s primarily their academics. I don’t know what I want to study yet, but when I do I want to make sure I can go there and get a good education and then be able to have a good job.”
Better than most college javelin throwers
Those Division I track programs certainly know about the distances Rivera has been recording this season, with personal bests in all three events.
Nationally her best event is the javelin. Her throw of 175 feet 10 inches is the 14th best in the U.S. this year, including college-age athletes. (The best is 218-1.) She’s one of only two high schoolers in the top 20. Her April 21 throw of 175-10 was the best high school attempt in the U.S. for two weeks, until a Pennsylvania sophomore threw 185-8 on May 7. Still, Rivera has thrown farther than some of the best athletes from schools such as Stanford, Texas A&M, Wake Forest, UCLA, Georgia and Minnesota.
Her personal best in the shot put is 49 feet 5 inches. The top 20 in the U.S. this year, including collegiate throwers, ranges from 55 feet to 64 feet.
Her PB in the discus is 149-9. Nationally, the top 20 attempts so far in 2015 range from 184-0 to 206-4.
The Throw: ‘It felt like nothing’
Regardless of her future accomplishments, she’ll probably never forget hurling that 175-10. She did it at the Brentwood Invitational, her only home meet of the season, and it beat her previous personal best by 13 feet.
“Honestly it felt like nothing, and that’s how you know a throw is good,” she replied. “Because I know in the past, when I hit the 157, that felt like nothing as well. So I knew it was good and I was hoping for a PR. But I was hoping for maybe a foot of PR. Like I had no clue how big that was until my dad was freaking out and calling over the principal and athletic director. Once I found out I was just ecstatic. I didn’t even know what to do. I was smiling.”
During her freshman and sophomore seasons Rivera’s parents Ed and Michelle were at every track meet and one or both were at most of her softball and basketball games. In January Michelle got a job with a large insurance company, in Georgia. The Riveras had a decision to make.
“We opted to stay here until Sophia graduates in May 2016,” said Ed Rivera. “It’s just too difficult to pull her away from Brentwood. She loves Brentwood and wants to finish as a Brentwood graduate.”
Said Sophia, “I really just love the community here in Brentwood, love the teachers, love the classes, love the people most of all. So I figured I just wanted to stay here. I want to finish my high school career here. And if that means being away from my mom every other weekend, then, I mean . . .”
Ed admitted “It’s been tough” but the Riveras have made do. He sends his wife video of Sophia’s throws. Michelle travelled to see her throw at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia and the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York City.
Sophia realizes that not having her mom at every meet has made her grow.
“I always thought of myself as independent before but it’s kind of at a different level now,” she said. “She isn’t there so then there are some things you never knew you were going to have to do that you do. She was always there to say things like, ‘Hey, don’t forget this.’ She always kept the stats so she could tell me what everybody else had thrown.”
Wary of the underdog
On May 16 Sophia will travel with teammates to the Class 2 sectional meet at Central High School in Park Hills. She is heavily favored to win the shot put and discus throw, thus qualifying for her third state meet, to be held next weekend in Jefferson City. Division I coaches want her and she may even be in the Olympics some day but right now she’s thinking only about Park Hills and Jeff City.
“My goal is to win state again but I know it’s not a for-sure thing,” she said. “I’ve had bad days and other people have had good days and you never know when those are going to come. So my goal is to have good days all throughout and hopefully the end result will be I’ll win again. But of course you never know. There’s always the underdog somewhere hiding out there waiting for you.”
BHS qualifiers for May 16 sectional
(Top 4 in each event go to state)
100-meter dash: Jacob Clay, Kaylon Jenkins
400 relay: Corey Carroll, Justice Harris, Clay, Jenkins (Deshaun Johnson alternate)
800 relay: Carroll, Harris, Clay, Jenkins (Johnson alternate)
Discus throw: Sophia Rivera
Shot put: Rivera
Long jump: Air’shay Lampkin
400 relay: Lampkin, Adrienne Silerio, Alesha Williams, Leanna Baudendistel (Abby Harper alternate)