When Superior high school’s girls basketball team resumes play next week, it will have what coach Manuel Ortega describes as its “guardian angel” leading it through the rest of the 1A Conference season.
Freshman guard Julissa Garcia died three days after Christmas from injuries suffered in an ATV, off-road accident. She was 14.
“Julissa was special,” Ortega said. “She had a personality that you loved to be around. She was like gravity. She would pull you in. She was always smiling her trademark smile. No matter what would happen, she would have a smile on her face. She was very positive on the court. She would pick up her teammates up if they made a mistake or she would root them on.”
Garcia was among the team’s top rebounders, averaging 5.3 rebounds a game.
She was among the top players in Arizona playing on Softball Little League state championship team last summer.
“She is a player that you loved to coach,” Ortega said. “For my team and I, this is a rough time. Any time someone passes away from a small town, it affects everyone. We will persevere by playing for her. The rest of the season is dedicated to her.”
A vigil was held Friday night that brought out community members not only from Superior but neighboring Winkelman, Kearny and San Manuel.
Ortega said there will be a pregame ceremony on Jan. 10 before it plays host to Winkelman Hayden at 5:30 p.m.
“We will play for her and play the way she would play,” Ortega said. “In other words, we will play for Julissa and play like Julissa.
“She will also be our sixth man and our guardian angel.”