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2019 Preseason Top 100 D-I Players: Rachel Garcia is No. 1

Rachel Garcia (Photo by Torrey Purvy/Getty Images)

Complacency has never been an option for Rachel Garcia. No matter how many accolades she receives, Garcia is never satisfied.

She always wants to raise the bar. She always want to find another level.

Following a 2018 season that saw Garcia win nearly every major award possible, the UCLA redshirt junior pitcher has returned to the diamond even stronger.

She’s in better shape, she’s developed a better drop ball and she’s fine-tuned her approach to hitting.

“The coaches and I sat down and developed a really good workout plan and practice plan for me,” said Garcia, who spent part of the offseason training at Hyht Crossfit in Lancaster, Calif. “I definitely had areas I wanted to improve, and I feel like it’s really made a big difference.”

Garcia helped UCLA reach the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series last season.

The right-hander finished 29-4 with a 1.31 earned run average and 315 strikeouts in 208 innings. At the plate, Garcia batted .393 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs.

She received the Honda Award for softball and was named national player of the year by USA Softball, NFCA and ESPNW.

Seeking ways to facilitate Garcia’s growth, UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez didn’t have to look far. The solution was right on her own coaching staff.

“Who better than Lisa Fernandez to work with Rachel Garcia?” said Inouye-Perez of the four-time All-American and three-time Olympic gold medalist. “They are two of the all-around best in the history of UCLA softball.”

Fernandez, in her 20th season as a UCLA assistant, has tried to probe deeper to bring out the best in Garcia.

“Lisa is really working on Rachel’s mental toughness and pushing her with her training,” Inouye-Perez said. “Rachel is a very physical athlete and there are not a lot of physical things you can do to her that she can’t handle. So Lisa has been creative and challenging her and sharpening the standard.”

During some UCLA practices, the pitchers are often breathing harder than the field players. Fernandez makes them jump rope between pitches to try and build their stamina.

“Lisa always wanted everyone to know she would outwork everybody and nobody would outlast her,” Inouye-Perez said. “That is the toughness Lisa is bringing to Rachel, and I am really looking forward to seeing the results.”

When she’s not in the circle this season, Garcia will be playing more at first base to keep her bat in the lineup and give the Bruins more flexibility at the designated player spot.

“I like playing the field. I feel like I am a little bit more involved in every single pitch,” Garcia said. “I really love when I have to dig out a ball at first. That is my favorite part.”

Playing with the USA Softball Women’s National Team during the summer provided Garcia with some valuable experience that is already paying dividends.

“That was completely different for me, and it really helped a lot with the mentality of the game,” Garcia said. “Being around Monica Abbott, Keilani Ricketts, Danielle O’Toole and Kelly Barnhill and hearing how they throw in the game gave me a lot of knowledge. It was great for me just to be around them and to watch them.”

Garcia arrived at UCLA in 2015 recovering from a torn ACL and meniscus. She’s gradually built her body back to full strength, gaining confidence with every new opportunity presented.

“In Rachel, I see someone who has taken adversity and turned it into a nice challenge,” Inouye-Perez said. “She hasn’t always been this healthy, and it’s fun to see her without limits and doing anything she can to push herself to be great.”

2. Amanda Lorenz 

Amanda Lorenz was a First Team All-SEC performer each of her first three seasons in Gainesville. She was the 2016 SEC Freshman of the Year and the 2018 SEC Player of the Year and, along with her teammate Kelly Barnhill, was a USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top Four Finalist in 2018. Her career OPS checks in at 1.221.

3. Jocelyn Alo

Freshmen aren’t supposed to do what Jocelyn Alo did in 2018—she led the nation in home runs (30). Alo tied to Oklahoma single-season home run record, and she finished third in the nation in slugging percentage (.977).  She was named the NFCA 2018 Freshman of the Year and was also a first-team All-American.

4. Kelly Barnhill

Arguably, the single most dominant pitcher in modern softball—Collegiate, Pro, or Olympic. Barnhill ranks first among active NCAA softball pitchers in career strikeouts per seven innings (11.52) and ERA (0.92). Her career WHIP is a resounding 0.749, while opponents bat just .124 with a slugging percentage of 0.176. She’s been a member of Team USA and is a two-time SEC Pitcher of the Year.

5. Aubrey Leach

A first-team All-American, Aubrey Leach improved her batting average from .333 in 2017 to .441 in 2018. Her 80 runs scored led the nation and set a Tennessee single-season record. She was also tied for seventh in hits (82) as the catalyst for a devastating top-of-the-order attack for Tennessee.

John Gillon was a contributing reporter for players 2-5.

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