Brian Golden

Brian Golden

In the past year, she’s been to Tokyo to leave a down payment on the 2020 Summer Games gold medal, and to New York as a finalist for the oldest and most prestigious American amateur athlete award.

Where to next for Rachel Garcia?

How about the mountaintop the Highland High legend and her UCLA softball teammates nearly reached a year ago?

The quest begins today at Easton Field on the UCLA campus when the second-seeded Bruins host Weber State in the first round of an NCAA Regional.

“I think we’re a stronger unit this season,” Garcia was saying on the eve of her postseason starting assignment. “We have a deeper pitching staff and a great bullpen that doesn’t get enough credit for what they do for us.

“Plus for me it’s such a blessing to be able to work with (UCLA pitching coach) Lisa Fernandez. Working with her last fall and this season has given me a whole new mindset.”

Tony and Christine Garcia’s daughter’s mindset was to take the ball every time it was given to her in 2018.

By the time the Bruins reached the Women’s College World Series, Rachel was pitching on heart, never mind fumes. Drop balls and risers that had dominated everyone in NCAA Softball suddenly were a few inches lower, or higher, due to fatigue.

Garcia gave up as many home runs in OKC as she had the entire season.

This year, freshman Megan Faraimo has joined the pitching staff, and put up a 1.13 ERA that’s among the top 17 in the NCAA.

“Last year definitely added fuel to the fire, to be so close to our goal,” Garcia said. “Coach Lisa has started some intense cardio training before we do our bullpen sessions at practice. So it’s like, this is how my legs are going to feel in OKC.

“Every day we’re saying to ourselves we’re going to get through this. It will only make us stronger for the big games ahead.”

After winning the USA Softball Player of the Year and The Honda Award, we wondered what Rachel Garcia would do for an encore.

As if she wouldn’t come up with more history.

Sure enough, she is the first player to win Pac-12 Pitcher and Pac-12 Player of the Year in the same year.

In the meantime, she has become a hero and an inspiration to hundreds of little girls here in the Valley, and across the country.

Once upon a time she was the little girl with wonder in her eyes, watching Lisa Fernandez and the other stars of softball and dreaming of one day being that kind of player.

Two decades later, Rachel is the young woman on TV — and the internet, and smartphone streaming and assorted other platforms.

She is taking us along for an amazing ride, one that could one day establish her as the greatest athlete the Valley has ever produced.

“Growing up in Palmdale, I always dreamed of playing at this level,” Garcia said. “I think about all the hard work it took to get here, like telling my friends I couldn’t go out with them because I had homework to do or we had a travel ball game, and all the hours of practice, and now we’re here. And it’s surreal.

“This will be my fourth straight year in the postseason. I used to dream of this, and now it’s here. It’s a little hard to believe.”

That support from the Rachel Garcia Fan Club that stretches from Boron to Palmdale means so much.

“I remember when I was the little girl looking up to people like Lisa Fernandez, who’s now my coach,” Garcia said. “Now I have the chance to be someone young softball players look up to, to help the softball community in the Valley. I always want to give back to our community.”

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