RIO HONDO — Rio Hondo softball coach Brett Esparza believes senior pitcher/third baseman Nayeli Garcia may be one of the most significant players to put on a Lady Bobcats uniform.
“She came into the program in her first year and went to (the University Interscholastic League Class 4A Region IV final),” Esparza said. “So she’s got that under her belt. And then the very next year, the Sweet 16, and on and on. Her accomplishments far outweigh the norm that you would (expect) in one career.”
Among a gathering of friends, family, school administrators and coaches, Garcia signed her intent Wednesday outside her high school’s entrance to attend Schreiner University, where she will major in exercise science and minor in psychology. Garcia has been on the school’s radar since her freshman year, and the interest was mutual.
“I’ve always kept them in my head as my No. 1 choice that I wanted to pursue,” Garcia said. “I started seeing (Schreiner coaches) at my showcases more, and everything fell into place.”
Schreiner University is a small private Presbyterian university in Kerrville, 70 miles northwest of San Antonio.
The Mountaineers compete in NCAA Division III and the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
One wrinkle that Garcia noted will make the first semester of her college experience different as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is Schreiner’s policy that students will not be assigned roommates to try to curb the spread of the disease.
Her academic interest is closely tied to her post-collegiate plans — Garcia aspires to go into coaching and one day open a training facility for softball players.
“I’ve always known that playing a sport is more mental than it is physical,” Garcia said. “I’ve always wanted to know how the brain works and how it affects our emotions on the field and off the field. Whenever you’re in a happy mood, you always seem to play better. I’ve seen that with everybody I’ve played with, and the girls who have a good bond together, we always have a solid team.”
Garcia likely will play one of the corner infield spots at Schreiner, a young squad that had just one senior and three juniors on its 2020 roster.
Esparza said with her travel and select team experience, Garcia has demonstrated an ability to adapt to any position, having played at almost every infield spot during her career with the Lady Bobcats. Garcia said she will look back proudly at what she and her teammates accomplished during her time on the diamond at Rio Hondo.
“(I will remember) being able to experience the nerves and excitement and the feeling of winning, being one of the top teams in the (Rio Grande Valley),” Garcia said. “Going to the fifth round (as a freshman) and competing at the highest level you can possibly compete at. … I’m thankful for the memories and the bonds and the love and the support I got from my teammates that I could do whatever I wanted and I was capable of getting a scholarship.”
She went 4-for-5 and picked up a win in the circle in a decisive 17-2 victory over Raymondville on March 13 in her final high school contest.
“She’s definitely going to be missed,” Esparza said. “She’s definitely very driven, she comes from a great family. She understands hard work and what it takes to make her dreams come true. And lucky for her, we’re here to celebrate the fact that they did.”