Sergio Rivas fought through anxiety and depression over the last couple of years, and he spoke about those mental health issues this summer at a Redhawks donor event because he wants people to know that it's OK to get help.
Two weeks removed from one of the biggest wins in Seattle University men’s soccer history — a 2-1 victory over 14th-ranked Akron on Sept. 9 — the Redhawks are hunting for another marquee victory Sunday when they play 16th-ranked Washington at Husky Soccer Stadium.
This is a rematch of last season’s NCAA tournament first-round game that Seattle U (5-3) won in overtime to claim its first victory at Washington since 1971.
“It’s going to be really tough. They have the best attacking midfielder in the country in Sergio Rivas,” Washington coach Jamie Clark said. “He’s better than any player in the nation. … He sees and thinks the game faster than other players.”
Rivas, the Redhawks’ senior captain, knows the Huskies will be a handful, but Rivas isn’t one to back down from a fight. He had to fight his own demons to be here.
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As Rivas revealed in June in a speech at Seattle U’s annual Red Tie Dinner — which honors donors and helps raise money for the athletic department — he has battled bouts of depression during his time in Seattle.
Rivas said the Seattle U soccer team helped him through his depression.
“I don’t think people know the struggles that people go through,” Rivas said. “I was one of those guys who said ‘It’s all in my head.’ I didn’t know until it happened to me. That’s why I wanted to tell people that when they’re going through this, they need to get help.”
Rivas was born in Parral, Mexico, but moved to Albuquerque, N.M., with his family at the age of 7 before moving to Seattle in 2015 to play soccer for the Redhawks.
Seattle U made it to the Sweet 16 in Rivas’ freshman season, and he was named the WAC Freshman of the Year. But the team took a step back during his sophomore season in 2016 and was eliminated in the semifinals of the WAC Tournament.
That, Rivas said, was when he started experiencing issues with anxiety and depression.
“I was really down on how we didn’t succeed,” Rivas said. “School was really hard, and since I’m a really family-oriented person, being away from family for that long also took a toll on me.”
After growing up in sunny Albuquerque, Seattle’s perpetual gray skies contributed to Rivas’ depression. That, along with relationship issues and school stress, created a downward spiral his sophomore year.
“I started seeing some difficulties getting out of bed,” Rivas said. “Difficulties doing homework, being able to focus in school and do some of those easy tasks I used to be able to do. I was training with the Sounders 2, and I wouldn’t even like to go anymore, because I just wanted to lie in bed.”
One day at practice, Rivas felt his chest tighten, and found it hard to catch his breath. He thought he was having a heart attack and rushed to the trainer to get examined.
“He told me I was having a panic attack,” Rivas said. “Nothing was wrong. Everything (was) perfectly fine, but sometimes you just have chemical or hormonal imbalances. You just never know.”
Rivas talked to mentors to help him through his depression, in particular Seattle U eligibility coordinator Dan Scheid. Rivas also changed some of his day-to-day habits to try to keep his anxiety at bay.
“One thing I tend to do is get really organized,” Rivas said. “When I’m really organized, it’s easier for me to process school, soccer or whatever else. If I’m not organized, I struggle and I get anxious. I also started doing some breathing techniques, and just trying to enjoy every day in life”
For all the changes he has made off the field to better deal with anxiety, on the field nothing has changed. Rivas is one of the Redhawks’ best players and team leaders, and he’s considered one of the country’s top 2019 draft prospects.
Sunday evening against the Huskies (5-2), Rivas will lead his team onto the field with a chance to make another statement win.
“(Sergio) is very hard to pressure. He sees the next pass before you can get pressure on him. And when you have to pressure, that leaves spaces behind,” Clark said. “He has the ability to turn good pressure into a negative. He is a facilitator and a playmaker. If we make a mistake, he’ll make us pay”
Seattle U coach Pete Fewing knows that this match is important to his team. Even though he stresses that every game is equally important, the Seattle rivalry undoubtedly gets circled on the calendar.
“They’re our huge crosstown rival that we have a lot of respect for,” Fewing said. “Everyone is hyping this game, and they’re a very tough, athletic Washington team. … We’re both trying to prove ourselves. It won’t be a problem for us to be ready for this one.”