The beginning of the Summit High School girls basketball team’s season could best be characterized as shaky and rough.
After sporting the best record the program has seen in 15 years and making it to the second round of the playoffs during the 2021-22 season, the 2022-23 Summit High School girls’ basketball program only recorded one win in its first six games.
Despite a 1-5 start to the season, the Summit girls’ basketball team kept its composure. The team realized that the losses were to competitive teams which would better prepare the team for the rest of the season and hopefully another playoff appearance.
“During December we were losing, but in my head I was never really that stressed out about it or nervous,” Rivera said. “This happened last year, and we were just losing by a couple points. I trusted my teammates and ourselves that we would just keep putting the work in.”
Since the new year, the Summit High School girls’ basketball team has gone 6-1, completely flipping its record. The team is currently ranked 16th among Class 4A girls’ basketball teams and is ranked first in the 4A Western Slope league rankings with a league record of 4-0.
At the forefront of the turnaround is Rivera, who has served as a leader on and off the court for the program the last four years.
Rivera — who plays mostly in the forward or power forward position — has lived in Summit County since she was around 5 years old and started playing basketball around the same time.
“I started on (Optimist Basketball League) in third grade — like a lot of my teammates — but we started playing basketball really with my dad in kindergarten and preschool,” Rivera said. “Just like shooting around.”
After learning the fundamentals of the sport, Rivera continued to see progress and made the Summit Middle School basketball team.
It was in middle school that Rivera played with many of the teammates that have made up the strong Summit High School girls’ basketball teams in the last two years.
Rivera says she has played with the vast majority of Summit’s 2022-23 varsity roster since at least seventh grade, creating a strong bond between the players and leading to a level of chemistry other high school basketball teams work hard in practice to develop.
“It is really incredible,” Rivera said of playing with the same group of girls since middle school. “Not only have we expanded our skills, gotten better and worked hard with each other, but we have also grown up with each other. It has been awesome to see us continue to grow and become who we are, which is the coolest thing ever.”
With her teammates around her, Rivera has ultimately seen the program transform over the last four years. The Summit High School girls’ basketball team has steadily improved since Rivera started logging minutes on the girls’ varsity basketball team her freshman year.
Rivera has played a role as the team went 10-12 her freshman year, 3-10 during her COVID-modified sophomore season and put up a historic 16-9 record during her junior campaign.
“Coach Burns puts her heart and soul into everything,” Rivera said. “She has never missed practice or games. She is always putting in the time and has always believed in our class. This program is really built on the back of her.”
Rivera says the program has also seen improvement because of the buy-in level of the athletes on the team. Despite not every athlete seeing basketball as their primary sport, Rivera says girls on the team have remained dedicated to the program and decided to work hard for the betterment of the team.
“I remember being a freshman and there was less connection in the program,” Rivera said. “I was more nervous at practice, but as we have gone on, not only do we have a dedicated, hardworking group of girls but a kind group of girls too.”
It was during Summit’s 16-9 season last year that Rivera truly came alive on the court. In 25 games, Rivera averaged 14.6 points per game, 5.2 defensive rebounds per game, 3.2 offensive rebounds per game and 1.3 steals per game.
This season, Rivera currently leads the team with 17.1 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game and is shooting 71% from the free throw line.
Beyond being a force on the court, Rivera has also served as a captain for the team since her sophomore season.
“It feels good,” Rivera said. “This year it is really big because I am a senior and one of the older girls. To me, it is really awesome to not only support people but push them and compete with them. Show them what a true basketball team can look like.”
Rivera’s display of athleticism and leadership over the last two seasons has led to several college programs expressing interest in helping her continue her career at the collegiate level. The prospect is something that Rivera says she has been dreaming of since her sophomore year of high school.
“I have a couple offers right now that I have been looking through to figure out what I want to do,” Rivera said. “Right now I am thinking about going to the University of Chicago. It has a really good balance of academics and athletics. I am leaning on that but still exploring my options.”
Before stepping off Summit High School’s basketball court one last time, Rivera and the Summit girls basketball team still have some goals ahead of them.
“We all want to be our league champs, which is our big goal.” Rivera said. “We want to make it to the sweet 16 in the playoffs.”
In terms of personal goals. Rivera hopes to get the Summit High School points record, break her own rebounding record and surpass 1,000 career points.
The Summit girls basketball team will continue to play through its 4A Western Slope league schedule, facing Delta High School on Saturday, Jan. 28, and Coal Ridge High School on Friday, Feb. 3.
Both games will take place at Summit High School with Saturday’s game taking place at 2:30 p.m. and Friday’s game starting at 5:30 p.m.