Northwest College has named Valerie Rivera as interim head coach of the Lady Trapper volleyball team for the 2019 season.
Rivera replaces Bethany Conde, who departed after a tumultuous 2018 season. Her tenure will begin next week, with the position to be reopened at season’s end.
Rivera is finishing up her master’s degree at William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where she’s a graduate assistant with the volleyball program.
“She [Rivera] came in and just nailed the interview,” said NWC Athletic Director Brian Erickson. “She’s never been a head coach before, but we asked her to talk about her coaching philosophy. The passion and the motivation when I talked to her, she made you want to go play volleyball. She has a high-level knowledge of the game; it’s very exciting.”
A native of California, Rivera began playing club volleyball as an 8-year-old, though she didn’t begin taking the game seriously until the age of 12.
“I started playing for a club team, and my parents were like, ‘You know, you’re pretty good at volleyball, so let’s keep you in it,’” she recalled. In middle school, Rivera made the eighth grade team as a seventh-grader and later became a four-year varsity player in high school — leading her team to two conference titles.
Despite a solid high school career, Rivera hadn’t planned on playing collegiately until a coach from Chaffey Community College in Rancho Cucamonga reached out to gauge her interest.
“An assistant coach just called me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to play at the junior college level,” she explained.
Rivera received All-Conference honors in both of her years as a member of the Chaffey Panthers, then went on to play at Waldorf University in Iowa. After graduating in 2017, she was contacted by William Penn University, who asked her to apply for a position on the coaching staff as she worked toward her master’s degree. She has spent the last two seasons on the sidelines for the Statesmen as a graduate assistant.
Rivera initially heard about the NWC position from William Penn’s men’s volleyball coach — an acquaintance of NWC women’s basketball coach Camden Levett. The volleyball coach texted her on a random Saturday, asking if she’d be willing to move to Wyoming for a job.
“I texted back, ‘What are you talking about?’” she chuckled. The coach offered to help get the ball rolling with an application, kept after her and Rivera ultimately decided to apply.
“Volleyball has really been a passion of mine,” she said. “A lot of things have happened for me because of it, and when the position at NWC opened up, I felt I would be stupid if I didn’t take a chance and try to do it.”
Asked what she enjoys the most about coaching, Rivera said the ability to be a positive influence on players tops the list.
“Winning is awesome, but it’s the relationships that you make that to me is the greatest benefit of coaching,” Rivera said. “You can have these kids remember you down the line as a positive influence. I still to this day talk to my high school coach because of how influential he was to my life. It’s the relationships that mean the most.”
Rivera said she’s looking forward to taking a team and making it her own, imparting her coaching philosophy on a group willing to buy in.
“I’m excited to see the type of kids that are going to come in and the type of kids that I can bring in to continue the success that Northwest already has as a volleyball program,” she said. “I’m looking forward to adding to that.”
Rivera also wants to help those athletes who are interested in moving on to four-year schools find the best fit for their talents.
“Coming from a four-year program, the connections I’ve built are just that much more beneficial for those girls,” she said. “Give me your all right now for these next two years, and I’m going to find you a home for the following two years to help you continue your volleyball career and get your education.”
At 25, Rivera is only a couple of years removed from her days as a player and just a few years older than the kids she’ll be coaching. She believes her age can be both a benefit and a downfall, and finding the right balance will be important. Her coaching philosophy centers around three words: Family, passion and respect.
“I want these kids to feel like they’re part of a family, that they have someone they can lean on and depend on,” Rivera explained. “Secondly, I want these kids to have a passion for the game, something they want to play for. Passion to be a good student, to be a good person and to be the kind of player that bleeds volleyball while they’re on the court. And finally, I want them to build respect. I want our program at Northwest to respect everyone they come into contact with, whether it’s an employee, professor or the president of the college. I want them to be respectful young ladies.”