By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student
PARK, Pa. - It is not often to find a person who is willing to travel more than
1,600 miles to attend a college or university. It is even more rare to hear
about someone who has traveled to various countries, like Thailand, Turkey and
the Czech Republic in order to represent his or her National Team in
But none of this is unique for 18-year-old freshman Wilma Rivera.
Rivera is from Carolina, Puerto Rico. She began playing volleyball when she was
eight years old, but that was the last thing that her parents had expected. Her
two brothers, Wilmar and William, were baseball players, and her dad was a
baseball and basketball player. Rivera had been on a baseball field or a
basketball court all her life to support her family, but she knew it was time
for a change.
"I've always been on the field with baseball or on the basketball court, but I
really enjoy volleyball," said Rivera. "I was home one time, and I said, 'Mom,
I really want to play volleyball,' and 'Dad, I want to play volleyball," and
they just agreed, so I went on and fell in love with the sport."
Rivera was a four-year team captain and MVP at her high school, Saint Francis
School. She was also the starting setter and team captain of the Puerto Rican Girls'
Youth National Team, and helped the team to the 2014 Puerto Rico Lopa El Nuevo
After seeing Rivera's vast amount of talent and her passion for volleyball,
head coach Russ Rose knew that Rivera would be the perfect fit for the Penn
State's women's volleyball program.
"She possess good skills," said coach Rose. "I like how quick she is. She has a
good feel for the game, and I think those are all good characteristics for a
With all the volleyball success in high school, Rivera knew that Penn State had
to be the next step for her future.
"Penn State volleyball is the best program," said Rivera. "If you want to be
good and be the best, you have to be with the best. I really like [Penn State].
The academics are really good. I just love being here, and it's totally worth
The transition from international play to collegiate play is not an easy feat
as they are two completely different systems. For example, the rules are not
the same, and the game is slower in international play when compared to
collegiate volleyball. This move can be difficult for people to adjust to
sometimes, but not for Rivera. She understands that that is a component for
being the best, and she wouldn't have it any other way.
"The adjustment is cool because it's a new experience," said Rivera. "I
wouldn't say that it is difficult at all, but it is a change, so it is
different. Obviously, the weather, classes, volleyball, how people train here,
just everything, but I think it's good and I like it."
In Penn State's first match of the season against Buffalo, Rivera made her
collegiate debut where she recorded eight assists and four digs. Later in the
season, against South Florida, Rivera tallied a career-high of nine digs, and
posted four digs in her Big Ten debut against Illinois. She is quickly getting
adjusted to the team and collegiate play, and her coaches can surely see that.
"I think she's certainly getting much more comfortable with life as a college
athlete," said coach Rose. "It's so much different than what she is accustomed
to in Puerto Rico. Practicing daily, having to go to classes, lifting and doing
these other things that are part of being a college athlete, those are just so
different...I think she's doing fine with the transition."
But Rivera wouldn't have been able to adjust to the new lifestyle if it wasn't
for her teammates.
"[My teammates] help me a lot," said Rivera. "They explain to me the different
drills, and if I have questions about classes, they help me with it. The point
is that we help each other, so nobody gets behind, so they're really good
Outside of volleyball, Rivera enjoys reading, listening to songs by Beyonce and
other artists, being with friends, shopping and other things, but right now,
her main focus is on volleyball.
"I love everything. I love my teammates and volleyball, like setting and
playing defense, but doing whatever I have to do to help the team, I will do
it," said Rivera.