At 5-feet tall, Hollister High senior Emmia Rivera is often the shortest player when she takes the basketball court.
But in prep basketball, being undersized doesn’t have to equate to a disadvantage. So it is with Rivera, who uses her athleticism and quickness to gain separation from bigger defenders and create shots for herself and her teammates.
In addition, Rivera’s on the ball defense was key for the Haybalers, who finished the regular-season 17-4 overall and 9-1 in Pacific Coast Athletic League Gabilan Division play. For the second year in a row, Hollister earned a share of the league championship with North Salinas.
The Balers will have to wait until the evening of Feb. 15 to find out when and who they will play in the opening round of the Central Coast Section playoffs. Rivera, who averaged 8.1 points a game in nine league contests, is a combo guard and has been an integral part of the team’s success for the last handful of years.
Although Rivera has a pass-first mentality, she’s not hesitant to shoot if she’s got a great look from the perimeter or sees an opening to get to the basket. She had 15 points in the team’s penultimate league game, a 61-41 win over Alisal Feb. 7 on Senior Night.
However, Rivera’s primary mindset is to drive and kick and keep the offense flowing.
“I feel like I’m better at creating points or helping others get their stats up,” she said. “Better at passing and finding others, especially down low. I’m only 5 feet so I really can’t get the boards, but I’m usually formulating where the ball is going. One of my favorite things is to drag a defender with me and then kick it out to an open teammate for a shot.”
Rivera was recently named Hollister High’s Winter Homecoming Queen, and though honored, she probably would’ve traded that in for the team winning an outright league championship. Hollister had a golden opportunity to do just that, but was waylaid by a North Salinas group looking to exact payback from their first meeting, a 57-53 Hollister win on Jan. 19.
In the rematch on Feb. 9, it was no contest. North Salinas landed a huge blow early and the Balers never recovered in a 63-46 Vikings’ win. The result left both teams with 9-1 league records and a share of the title for the second consecutive season.
Hollister played the game without standout guard/forward Jocelyn Alexander, who provides skillful, physical play and possesses tremendous leadership qualities. Unfortunately for the team, Alexander got injured a couple of games prior and is likely done for the season, Rivera said.
Alexander had scored in double figures in every league game until she got hurt vs. Carmel Jan. 27. The Balers’ sensational junior guard, Bailey Cotter, averaged 17.5 points in 10 league games.
“Obviously, they had the energy and the crowd, but it was about us,” Rivera said. “We just couldn’t zone out the crowd, especially not having Jocelyn there, we couldn’t really have the game we had the first time we played them. I also feel like it was a matter of them wanting it more, so definitely for CCS we need to prove we belong just as much as anyone else.”
Rivera said it’s been a great experience playing on the team because of its cohesiveness.
“We make good passes zigzagging across the court, and once we get in rhythm, it’s way more fun,” she said. “It fits perfectly. We usually can find someone down low, everyone shares the ball and that results in finding someone for a layup. When we’re playing with good chemistry, it’s hard to stop us.”
Hollister has been in sync quite often this season, which is a big reason why the team had its best regular-season in Mitch Burley’s 12 years as the head coach. Bailey Cotter has been downright sensational at times, but the younger players like sophomore Claire Gho have provided a surplus of energy and production to the team as well.
Basketball isn’t actually Rivera’s first love when it comes to playing sports. She started playing soccer at an earlier age but made a commitment to play basketball upon entering high school in part because her dad Miguel—a 1992 Hollister High graduate—loves basketball.
“It’s my dad’s favorite sport so it’s mostly for him,” Emmia said. “My dad coached me on NJB [National Junior Basketball] and that’s when I really started to learn the game from him. He’s given what he had to me. I love basketball, but I love soccer a little more.”
Thankfully for Rivera, she can play both sports year-round—just not in high school since their seasons run concurrently. Rivera plays basketball for the high school but in the past has played club soccer for the Hollister Tremors, quenching her desire to excel and play both sports.
In fact, many of Rivera’s club soccer teammates play for the Haybalers, including her sister, Zamaya, who is having a standout freshman season. Emmia said she’s proud of her sister and they’ve pushed each other to become better. While Zamaya has proven to be superior on the pitch, Emmia has bragging rights when it comes to basketball.
“Even if she’s taller, I got her,” Emmia said.