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Rivard grows on, off the field to lead Pinecrest Academy boys' soccer
Junior forward develops leadership skills to match athletic ability
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Pinecrest Academy forward Stephane Rivards growth on and off the field has the Paladins aiming for a state championship. - photo by Brian Paglia

In years past, Pinecrest Academy boys’ soccer coach Chris Kane would ask forward Stephane Rivard after a game to assess the performance, and Rivard’s answer usually started with how many goals he scored.

Kane noticed that change this season. Instead Rivard, a junior and No. 5-ranked Pinecrest’s leading scorer entering its second round game against Pace Academy in the Class A tournament Tuesday, would diagnosis the team’s overall play.

"That’s maturity, right?" Kane said.

Indeed, Rivard has matured into one of the county’s most dynamic scorers this season. He had hat-tricks against North Cobb Christian, St. Francis (twice), King’s Ridge and North Forsyth. He led Pinecrest in goals (21) and assists (14) entering Tuesday and has been an essential factor in the Paladins’ emergence as a state title contender this season.

On the field, Rivard’s play has matured as his experience has accrued. As a freshman, Rivard had impressive athletic ability but raw soccer knowledge. Born in the western prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada, and raised in Toronto, he moved to Forsyth County in the fifth grade when his dad’s job was transferred to Atlanta.

Rivard had not grown up involved in the travel soccer culture. He always played but never beyond recreation leagues or pick-up games with friends.

Kane encouraged Rivard to find a club team, so he joined the United Futbol Academy. Playing against and with more skilled talent, Rivard’s athletic skill improved while his knowledge of the game’s intricacies blossomed.

"One thing that sets apart players is actual knowledge of the game," Rivard said, "like being able to play in a smart way instead of an athletic way. Ten times out of 10 the smart way is going to beat the athletic way. I’ve become a lot smarter in terms of how to play the game."

Much of that knowledge came from the sheer volume of soccer Rivard started to play. But he also sought it out. He would talk with coaches, older players and players who had graduated from Pinecrest. They shared insights with him about the right angles to pursue passes and other details that augmented his athletic ability.

This season, Kane noticed Rivard started sharing that knowledge. Before the Paladins’ 6-3 win against Fellowship Christian on April 8, Kane made Rivard a team captain, joining seniors Alex Brenner and Michael and Patrick Houlihan.

"Throughout the season he’s just been so positive with everyone, especially the younger guys," Kane said. "He’s done a great job of taking them under his wing and coaching them not only during practice but even in games."

"It was crucial to me when I was a freshman," Rivard said, "and I hope it can be as crucial and just as helpful to them as it was to me."

With Rivard’s play and mentorship, Pinecrest had lofty goals entering the state tournament.

"State championship," Rivard said. "It’s what we had in mind coming into the season. It’s what we’re going to aim to get. Nothing short of it."