For the past 30 years, Gatorade has honored the nation’s most elite high school athletes for their athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character with the Gatorade Player of the Year award. On July 14, the 12 Gatorade National Players of the Year from the 2014-15 season will gather in Hollywood, where the 13th annual GatoradeHigh School Athlete of the Year award will be presented to the best overall male and female athlete. Abby Wambach, J.J. Watt, Draymond Green and other star athletes are expected to be on hand.
In the days leading to the presentation, USA TODAY High School Sports will profile each of the 12 candidates — six boys and six girls.
Highland High (Palmdale, Calif.) senior right-hander Rachel Garcia was still a toddler when UCLA legend and Team USA catcher Stacey Nuveman-Deniz won the first of her three Olympic medals at the Sydney Games in 2000, but the teen instantly recognized the softball celebrity when she showed up on campus to hand her the 2014-15 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year.
“I am so honored and absolutely blown away,” said Garcia, 18, a UCLA signee. “I can’t get my head around it. I’m speechless. I had no idea I had a chance to win this. Honestly, it’s like, ‘What just happened?’”
Also the 2012-13 Gatorade State Player of the Year, the 5-foot-7 hurler posted a 26-2 record in the circle along with a 0.20 ERA this past season, leading the Bulldogs (28-3) to the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 tournament championship game. Garcia struck out 418 batters in 175 innings pitched, posting a 0.20 ERA while firing 20 shutouts, including 10 no-hitters and five perfect games. A member of the USA Softball Junior Women’s National team, she batted .667 with 20 home runs, 57 RBIs and a 1.412 slugging percentage.
Garcia was utterly dominant in the circle, recording 2.39 strikeouts per inning as opposing hitters batted 0.66 against her. She accumulated a 0.29 WHIP and a 32.2-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, issuing only 13 walks and surrendering just 37 hits, which amounted to about one every five innings. At the plate, she produced an OPS of 2.125, drew 18 walks and fanned only five times in 122 plate appearances.
“Rachel Garcia is one of the finest pitching talents we’ve seen this decade,” said Derek Allister, vice president of OnDeck Softball, a national scouting and recruiting service. “Not only does she possess excellent velocity, movement and location, but she also owns the unflappable demeanor that will allow her to survive the up-and-down nature of pitching at the highest levels in college.”
The Bulldogs’ standout was at her best in the postseason. Garcia went 4-0 on the mound with a 0.00 ERA, allowing just two hits over 38 innings pitched while punching out 92 opposing batters. She did not issue a walk. At the plate, Garcia batted .684 (13-for-19) with six home runs and 11 RBI en route to a .727 OBP. In recording the final out of the 12th inning in the state title game, she suffered a meniscal tear in her left knee and could not continue in a scoreless game. Highland lost in the 13th.
Garcia underwent arthroscopic knee surgery to repair the injury on June 22.
Garcia has maintained a weighted 3.44 GPA in the classroom. An accomplished guitarist, she has volunteered locally at Valley Oasis, a shelter for abused women and children, and as a youth softball coach for the City of Palmdale. Also a math tutor for her teammates, she helped create the Golden League Gives Back, an initiative through which Golden League softball programs contribute goods and services to the Grace Resource Center for the needy in Lancaster. An active parishioner of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Garcia has donated her time fundraising for the non-profit Highland Softball Boosters organization in addition to conducting free pitching lessons to girls from area families battling financial hardship.