Oct. 22, 2005
By Elliott Finebloom
FSU Sports Information
Change is a fact of life. We all have to deal with it. But when changes are major and keep coming one after another, it can be hard to deal with. Just ask Seminole senior Teresa Rivera. The Parkland, FL native experienced more change in a matter of weeks than she could have ever imagined.
After reaching the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year as FSU’s starting left back in 2004, Rivera was wrapping up the fall and looking forward to coming back for the spring season as one of just two seniors. Then it happened; in a matter of a month she found out her coach was leaving to take another job and her best friend, on top of the being the team’s leading scorer was transferring over 2,200 miles away.
“Things got bad,” recalled Teresa. “After coach left, Leah told me she was leaving too. At that moment I felt like my whole world was crumbling. Things had been the same for so long and you get used to that. Now going into my senior year everything was going to be different. There was no year to adapt to it. This was it. This was how my senior year was going to be. Those thoughts all ran through my head.”
Senior year is a special time for any player. It is something you dream about and work towards. For Teresa, the dream was looking like a nightmare. Not only did she lose the coach who recruited and had started her since she arrived on campus but she lost one of the most important people she turned to for support during any tough time in her life. On top of it all, as a senior everyone was looking to her to make it all OK.
“The changes were so drastic. It was difficult trying to hold everyone together and let my teammates know it was going to be alright, all the while not knowing if it was going to be. It was very tough. It is hard to make everyone feel OK when you are unsure yourself.
“It required me to deal with the uncertainty alone so my teammates didn’t see it. When it comes to the betterment of the team, everyone is looking for someone to provide that assurance. Once I got over the initial shock, you do have to start telling yourself everything is going to be OK and start believing it as well. That is the only way you can help others feel comfortable.”
Teresa did start to come to terms with it. She started to understand that her coach and best friend weren’t leaving her they were doing what was best for themselves, their families and their future. It was hard to accept that at first but having both her coach and best friend make very tough decisions to take their lives in another direction within a matter of weeks opened her eyes.
“The changes have been difficult especially the head coaching change,” said Teresa. “I came here my first year and loved everything. I loved my teammates. I enjoyed the soccer and college life. It was hard to see that change and you thought that the people who left didn’t want to be a part of something you cared about a lot. I had to realize that the change was not personal. They did what they had to do for themselves, especially when Leah left. That was one of the hardest things I had to go through. Losing her as a player was one thing but losing her as a best friend was tough. I had to realize in the long run those changes were better for them.
“Initially it is difficult to accept that people have to do what is right for them. Now I can see the bigger picture. What people do, what they study and where they live are big things and can affect them in ways I may not have appreciated at first. Those are the things that can play a part in your future success after school. I now know that people have to do what’s best for them. Florida State was best for me and that is why I am here. It hit home for me after some personal experiences.”
Coming to terms with those changes didn’t mean Teresa was over the losses. Although she thought she was ready to move on and had accepted how different her final year was going to be, she relived the whole experience again at the start of fall when she took the field for preseason.
“I would have to say the spring and summer were the hardest times of all four years but when we were coming back at the end of summer and it was time to see everybody again, it started all over,” remembers Teresa. “You want your best friend to be there to help you adjust. At the same time she is going through her own changes and calling me for advice. It was tough not having her with me. It is also the time you realize coach Baker isn’t here. This is real. You don’t grasp it until everything actually gets started again.
“It was easier to accept before I got out on the field. As soon as practice started again all those initial feelings came back again. Why are they leaving? What’s missing? Why don’t you want to be here? All the things I experienced when Leah and coach left all came back again.”
Ironically it was a trip to California and a game against USC, where Leah was now playing, that brought the whole upheaval of the off season full circle. The questions about her team, her friendship with Leah and all the off season changes came to a head in the first game of the season. Gallegos, who was still recovering from an injury suffered at FSU the year before, did not play in the game, but it was what Teresa saw after FSU’s 4-0 win that helped her move on.
Seeing Leah surrounded by her family and the smile on her face really made an impression on Teresa. As roommates she always knew how important family was to her best friend but seeing them all together in Los Angeles reassured her that Leah made the right decision and that her friend’s happiness was the most important thing.
On the field the victory showed her that her senior season was not going to be a rebuilding year. Upsetting a top 25 team in impressive fashion helped to resolve any lingering doubts about how her final year of college soccer was going to play out. Everything that had weighed on her for months was resolved in a matter of a few hours.
“It wasn’t until we went to USC that I knew things were going to be alright. Actually seeing Leah in California, I knew she was going to be OK and we were too. I felt good about her and I felt good about our team. Working and talking with (FSU head coach) Mark (Krikorian) and the coaching staff for awhile made me comfortable but that weekend I came to peace with it all.
“Seeing Leah with her family and how happy she was made me feel good. I knew it was worth the hard times we went through. It was hard for her too. She lost all her friends. Then we win that game and I knew we would be OK on the field as well. There was a lot of closure for me that weekend.”
Not only were things going to be OK, there has been a silver lining to all the changes both on and off the field. While she is still very close with Leah, having her roommate transfer across country has afforded Teresa more opportunities to bond with her nine new teammates and even develop closer relationships with the players that returned in 2005.
“Leah’s transfer has allowed me to become closer with people that I may not have formed bonds with had she still been here. I was able to spend more time with other people because there was some space in my life now. It made me appreciate the people who were here because I knew one day those people may not be around all the time.”
Things have worked out well on the field too. Teresa has once again started every game; she is playing some of the best soccer of her career and doing it for a 12-2 team that is ranked in the top 10. The success she is experiencing personally and with her team is more than she could have ever hoped for back in December when she was riddled with uncertainty.
“I think this senior year has turned out just awesome,” said Teresa. “The fear of going through a rebuilding year was in the back of my mind. With so many new players and an entire new staff, there were only two seniors and it would have been easy for them to overlook us. Everybody involved with the program didn’t let that happen. They make us feel special.
“The success we have been having, how great it is playing for Mark and the way I feel about the new players has made it easier. Not that they are substitutes for what we had but it has made it easier. That has helped.”
With so many constants in her life the first three years at Florida State, Teresa was probably a little lucky she didn’t have to deal with much change. For her it all came in a short span of time and having made it through has taught her so much.
“There have been a lot of times when it is really hard. You feel like running away and not dealing with it. Sticking through the tough times builds character. I grew up more in that time than I did in my first three years here. I learned more about myself than I did in all my classes or in all the games I played. A big part of that was making it through the spring and getting to where we are today.
“All the change and what followed taught me to have faith in the future. There will always be hard times but things do work out in the end. You will always worry but you have to have faith things will turn out OK. There is going to be heartache and stress but maybe there doesn’t need to be as much of that.”
With just three games left in her final season, more change is on the horizon for Teresa. For the first time in her life she won’t have organized soccer and her new found faith in the future will serve her well as she won’t be scared of the upcoming changes. She will embrace them.
“I have learned to hold on to my memories but appreciate what the future has as well. I learned to embrace new possibilities.”