Santa Maria’s Garcia signs to run for Central Methodist

Santa Maria runner Julissa Garcia, center, smiles as she addresses supporters at her signing ceremony Tuesday at the school gym. Garcia, a two-time UIL state track & field meet qualifier, signed to compete in cross country and track & field for Central Methodist University. By Claire Cruz, Valley Morning Star

SANTA MARIA — Julissa Garcia has been chasing big dreams on the track from the start of her career.

She began running for Santa Maria in the seventh grade, with her sights set on reaching the UIL state track & field meet and getting to compete at the college level. Garcia achieved the first goal twice, advancing to state in the 400-meter dash in 2018 and 2019 in Class 2A.

Garcia, her family and coaches felt confident this season would be her best, but the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended her chances of getting back to Austin and winning a state medal. But that didn’t stop her from reaching another goal of becoming a college athlete.

On Tuesday, Garcia signed to compete in cross country and track & field for Central Methodist University in Fayette, Mo. Amos Salas, a CMU recruiter and coach at Santa Maria, said he began recruiting Garcia in her junior year, and though it took some convincing, he’s happy she decided to join the Eagles family.

“I didn’t really think I was going to run for a college, but it’s going to happen now. I’m excited and relieved that it’s actually happening,” Garcia said. “I was excited when (Central Methodist) offered me, but I was also kind of scared because it’s so far away. I decided I have to suck it up because I want to run that bad.”

Representing Santa Maria as a standout runner is in Garcia’s blood. Her mother, Jessica Moreno, won three state medals in the 800 during the 1990s, and her older sister, Jesslynn Garcia, was a regional meet qualifier.

Julissa Garcia, her mom and sister were all guided by longtime Santa Maria running coach Juan Silva. Garcia thanked Silva and girls cross country/track & field coach Sonia White for developing and believing in her.

“My high school career was smooth and easy. I looked up to these coaches, and they made it so great,” Garcia said. “Coach Silva has done everything for me since the very beginning. I really looked up to him a lot because he coached my mom and my older sister. Coach White has done a lot for me, too. She made a home here with us and made a really good relationship with us.”

The strong influences of her coaches have Garcia planning to follow in their footsteps. She’ll be studying kinesiology at Central Methodist and wants to become a track coach. She plans to return to Santa Maria during school breaks to encourage young Cougars to push toward big goals, like she has.

Silva and White lauded Garcia’s work ethic and said it was a pleasure getting to coach her. They’re confident she’ll continue to improve in college under newly appointed cross country/track & field coach Kenny Anderson. Garcia will be taking on the Hearth of America Athletic Conference in Division I of the NAIA with the Eagles.

“It’s a great feeling to see one of your kids succeed,” Silva said. “She’s a fine example of what kids from Santa Maria can do. She works hard, no complaints, and that’s what she needs to do.”

Added White, “She’s hard working, and she’s very dedicated in the classroom and on the track. She’s a great kid, and I know she’ll do well at the next level because she’s disciplined and always ready and willing to go to work.”