Known for her deadly accuracy on the volleyball court and her athleticism on the track, Kiana Rivera, a standout athlete at John F. Kennedy High School, said playing high school sports was all about making deep connections while picking up life lessons that will ensure success as she navigates the “real world.”

“Sports made school not just about work and studying, but having fun and enjoying the last few years of high school,” said the 18-year-old, adding that her teammates have become some of her closest friends. Years of grinding it out in gyms together have cemented bonds that she will treasure.

Rivera, aka Kiana Marie, if you’re talking to her volleyball coach, is never still. Since middle school, she’s been playing sports, picking up extracurricular activities – all while balancing an academic load that got her named one of 15 finalists for the coveted Shieh Su Ying Scholar-Athlete Award.

“Throughout all four years of high school, I’ve been busy every single day with homework, practice and other extracurricular activities,” said the 2020 graduate. “I had to learn how to prioritize and deal with the time I had, trying to make it work.”

Quiet and reserved, Rivera said her days are pretty simple now that school is out.

“If I am not working out, running, working or spending time with friends, I am being creative in different ways,” she said. “I enjoy painting and drawing. Again, I’m not very good at it, but it’s just something that makes me feel relaxed when I don’t have anything else to do.”

Playing volleyball

As a freshman, Rivera tried a few different sports, including basketball, soccer and softball. However, she found her niche in volleyball and track.

“I genuinely enjoy both volleyball and track,” she said. Drawn to the team aspect, she said she enjoys the nuances of the game and the teamwork that come into play on the volleyball court.

She made the All-Island team several years, but received MVP honors her senior year when the Islanders went on a tear in the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam Girls Volleyball League to finish the season undefeated. While they didn’t earn the championship, the Islanders had a phenomenal run with Rivera playing an integral role in a powerful offense that had firepower from various athletes on the team.

Her coach, Alden Bautista, said Rivera’s presence will be sorely missed on the court.

Bautista, who has coached her since seventh grade at Vicente S.A. Benavente Middle School, commended her commitment and work ethic to hone her game even during the offseason.

“Kiana Marie is one of the most accomplished athletes I’ve had the opportunity to see grow,” he said. “She not only puts in the time during the season, but her loyalty and dedication during the offseason sets her apart from most athletes.”

Winning the MVP of her senior season in volleyball wasn’t an accident, Bautista said, attributing the honors to her dedication and trust in the process. Her ability to take her frustration and utilize it as fuel allowed her to set new standards for herself in every aspect of her game.

“Every season that I coached Kiana Marie, she showed how much she developed the year before,” Bautista said. “Every day, I could see the frustration and willingness to be better than the previous practice or game. It’s almost like she was proving what most already knew, that she was a force to be reckoned with.”

As much as Bautista said her on-court presence will be missed, he said her off-court persona was just as important to the team’s growth and chemistry over the years.

“(She) made her efforts known on the court, but her quiet, calm demeanor off of it set the tone for the rest of her teammates to follow,” he said.

Running track

On the track, Rivera said she embraces the individuality and finds herself best motivated when she competes against herself.

“I like it because the feeling I get after every race and the motivation it gives me to beat my own records is like no other,” she said.

Competing for JFK her sophomore year, she discovered she had a talent for it and placed in all four of her events, even helping the Islanders reclaim their track and field title her junior year. She’s also competed at the international level, representing the island and medaling at the Micronesia Area Championships and at junior track competitions. She has already racked up several medals in the sprints while wearing Guam's red and blue in international and regional competitions.

Jay Antonio, her coach at John F. Kennedy High School and on the Guam National Team, complimented Rivera's talent and athleticism.

“Kiana is a late bloomer for track and field, but she definitely has the talent,” Antonio said.

Her work ethic and natural athleticism make her a potential medal winner in more than the four maximum events allotted for All-Island, he said.

“Some athletes struggle to make one event and, because of her talent and hard work, she basically can excel in multiple events,” Antonio said, adding she just “has to pick and choose which ones she wants the most. “

While high school is over and done, Antonio said he’s hopeful that Rivera will continue to compete at the national level and represent Guam on a bigger stage

Moving forward

When asked to describe herself in three words, Rivera said, “Determined, quiet and punctual.”

All three have provided lessons that have helped her find success or learn to navigate failures when they come up.

A powerful presence on the court and the track, Rivera is pretty reserved when not in competition.

“I’m no different than any other student-athlete,” she said, when discussing the late nights studying and balancing the demands of her sport while still ensuring she was up before the chickens to make JFK’s early start time.

“(It was a) bit of a struggle, but I managed to adapt,” she said, stressing the importance of proper nutrition, rest and recovery as a student athlete.

Even Rivera’s future plans reflect that polarity in her nature. A summer class in cosmetology prior to her senior year stoked her creative fire and she discovered a new passion, she said. With a career in cosmetology as her goal, she has already registered at Guam Community College. However, she’s also angling for a degree in accounting to complement the cosmetology license she knows she will earn.

There’s a plan in place, she said.

“I feel the accounting is something that’ll help me a lot with my cosmetology career,” she said. “It’ll help with the business I one day hope to start.”

With the support of her family, she said, the only way to go after a successful and happy stint in high school is up.

“ My parents are definitely my biggest supporters. They’ve allowed me to make my choices, try different things and helped me through them,” she said. “There were different things they wouldn’t agree on and I’ve trusted them just because I know they’ve had experience and I thank them for their guidance. Without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

Q&A

Q: Any advice for high schoolers considering a career that others might consider a little difficult to find success in?

A: Don’t be afraid to try new things. Put in the work and effort to be where you want to be in life. It may be a struggle, but it’ll be worth it at the end. If cosmetology or whatever it is, is something you’re passionate about, you shouldn’t be ashamed about it. Don’t let anyone’s opinion change what you enjoy doing. I am guilty of feeling so just because I’ve heard or been told it’s not going to make me successful. If it’s something you genuinely enjoy doing, you should do your best and make the most of it.

Q: Is there anyone you’d like to thank for helping you get to where you are today?

A: I’d like to thank my parents for raising me how they did, supporting me, and pushing me to be the best I can. I’d also like to thank all my coaches. Most especially coach Bautista and coach Antonio. Not only did they help me become a better athlete, but they also had a really big part in my personality as well. Without my teachers giving me lots of work, my time management skills and work ethic wouldn’t be with me today.

Q: Your advice to incoming freshmen looking to play sports?

A: Don’t be intimidated by the new environment. Just because you’re a freshman, doesn’t mean you can’t be as good as anyone else. No matter how hard it is, don’t give up. Show your coaches you’re willing to put in the work and effort and that you’re doing the best you can.

Q: Quote you live by? Why?

A: It’s pretty broad and cliché, but it’s “Stars don’t shine without darkness,” because I believe that our struggles, weaknesses, the obstacle we go through, are what make us stronger. The things you had to go through, the hard work and effort you put in to get you where you want to be is what makes you shine.

Q: Something people may not know about you?

A: Something people may not know about me is that I enjoy painting and being creative. I may or may not be very good at it, but it’s just something I like to do when I have free time.

Q: The last book you read?

A: “Words in Deep Blue” by Cath Crowley.

Q: What’s your go-to song when running?

A: I don’t have a specific song or genre I listen to when running. It changes all the time. It really depends what I’m feeling at the moment.

Q: How do you prep for a meet? Any rituals or superstitions?

A: I always have to make sure I’m properly hydrated, eating right, stretching and getting enough rest. Usually I’d prep a playlist for me to listen to before a meet or game just to get me hyped and in the mood.

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