Whittier Christian softball star Aleena Garcia seeks first section title

Aleena Garcia makes everything look easy on and off the diamond. In a way it is, but only because she has dedicated so much time and effort to the three things she values most: family, faith and softball.

A senior shortstop at Whittier Christian High in La Habra, Garcia leads her team in practically every offensive category, and her 12 home runs rank No. 12 in the state and 10th in the Southern Section. She is third best in California in runs scored (49) and boasts a .692 slugging percentage, a .610 batting average, 50 hits, 17 doubles, three triples, 33 RBIs and five stolen bases.

Not a day goes by that Garcia does not improve herself intellectually, spiritually and physically. A typical 24-hour period begins with a 5 a.m. run, after which she spends 30 minutes writing in her journal or reading the Bible before getting ready for school. She has classes from 8 a.m. to 1:40 p.m., then high school practice for another two and a half hours. Before getting home for dinner she’ll fit in an extra workout on her own until dark. Fortunately, she never gets tired of the routine.

“I started baseball at the age of 3 and when I was 6 I went right into travel ball,” she recalls. “My dad was also my coach, which I’m happy about. Between the ages of 8 and 10 I won three national championships, which everybody doesn’t get to do and from then to now I transitioned into travel softball at the highest level.

“It’s a bit ironic that in baseball I always played outfield but playing with boys growing up helped me become a better player faster and it also helped me competitive-wise because boys are very competitive from the day they’re born.”

Garcia tried shortstop for the first time when she went to her first softball tryout and has played the position ever since.

“I love it,” she admits. “You’re moving the most. I get to use my athletic ability there.”

Of all the instruction and advice she has absorbed along the way, though, her father, Rudy, has had the most influence.

“He’s been a huge part of my success and my journey in this sport,” Garcia said. “Since the day I started playing sports, he’s pushed me to be my best but he also knows who I am as a person. He’s helped me become a better person and player.”

Living with two brothers, one older and one younger, also accelerated Garcia’s personal and athletic growth.

“It’s a blessing,” she says. “Not everyone has brothers who compete at a high level.

“My older brother Andy played baseball when he was younger and he may not know it but I’d always try to be as good as him and be like him. My little brother Aaron was out there running around since he was in diapers. Now we train together all the time and it’s competition every day.”

Andy attended La Serna High and played baseball until he was 11 before switching to golf. He is now a sophomore on the the men’s golf team at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Aaron, meanwhile, follows in his sister’s footsteps as a shortstop and catcher.

“We train together all the time, we’re never without each other,” says Aaron, who is completing eighth grade and is eager to start his own high school career at St. John Bosco in the fall. “We push each other and make each other better.”

Garcia spent her freshman year during the COVID-19 pandemic honing her skills at EM Speed and Power, a training facility in Rancho Cucamonga specializing in high-intensity, full-body workouts. When the pandemic eased, she enrolled at Whittier Christian, a school with 428 students about 10 miles from her home in Pico Rivera.

“A huge reason I came here was my faith,” she said. “We’re not ashamed to talk about God and we’re allowed to, so being here helps me grow in that aspect of my life as well.”

Dale Van Duyn is in his 18th season at Whittier Christian and believes Garcia is the most complete player he has ever coached.

“All around, definitely,” he states without hesitation. “She can hit, catch, throw, play defense, run the bases … she’s the whole package. Usually when you have a really good player they have an attitude to them and even though she’s very competitive, she’s also a phenomenal teammate. She leads by her actions.”

Van Duyn is quick to point out that for all of her God-given talent, Garcia’s success can be attributed to hours and hours of repetition.

“She works on her swing constantly, she takes a minimum 200 swings a day,” adds Van Duyn, who piloted the Heralds to back-to-back Southern Section Division 5 titles in 2009 and 2010. “She works on every aspect of her game, not just hitting. Actually, she’s improved her base running the most. She’s not only the fastest I’ve had, she’s also the smartest. I have no doubt she’ll succeed at the next level. If she struggles, she’ll work herself out of it.”

Asked what aspect of the game she likes most, Garcia’s answer is not surprising:

“I enjoy all of them, but I would say hitting. There’s a lot of success, but there’s even more failure, and a lot of people aren’t as good at dealing with both sides. I don’t get too high or too low. The mental side of hitting is something I really, really enjoy going through and the home run feeling doesn’t compare to anything else!”

Despite being a power hitter, Garcia is not one to swing at offerings outside the zone. She is a pitcher’s worst nightmare in that she will work the count, take a walk if there is nothing to attack, and pounce on any mistake. She has struck out only once in 82 at-bats this season.

“One key to hitting is to work on it all the time,” she says. “It’s no secret … the more you hit in practice, the better you’ll hit in games. Another key is the mindset, which not many people think of. A hitting mindset is so important because you’re going to fail a lot in this sport. It’s a game of failure. If you’re failing you don’t want to get too low, if you’re succeeding you don’t want to get too high. Keep the mindset that you know you’re good enough to beat anybody and you know you’ve succeeded before so every time up you believe you can do it.”

On March 15, Garcia clouted three homers and batted in six runs versus Mary Star and in the Heralds’ last game she went three for three with a double, a triple, one RBI and two runs scored in a 13-2 rout of Los Altos. For all of her hitting prowess, she has also been stellar on defense, posting a 0.925 fielding percentage with 22 putouts, 40 assists, two double plays and only five errors in 67 total chances.

Stats like those will draw the attention of any Division I program and, sure enough, when Sept. 1 rolled around her dad says Garcia received 15 offers, including from Oregon, Stanford and Texas A&M. Although Rudy was hoping she would pick Stanford, Aleena opted for UCLA and cited several reasons:

“First, it just felt like home when I was there. I felt at peace with the coaches and the players in a way that was different than the other places I visited. Second, it’s one of the winningest programs. I could be there next year and right away be competing for the national championship. Third, it’s close to home. I love my family and being that close it’ll be easier for them to come see me play than if I went somewhere else. Fourth, softball is not forever. I see myself being an Olympian, psychology interests me too and L.A. has lots of connections.”

Garcia cannot wait for the day she gets to don the powder blue uniform.

“Committing to UCLA was the best moment of my life because that’s been a dream of mine since I started playing softball,” she says.

“I could see myself living with them everyday for four years there and continuing that relationship after college. The way they push each other, their competitiveness, how they compete in everything they do … it’s a place I want to be.”

Riding Garcia’s hot bat, the Heralds were victorious in their last six regular-season games, outscoring the opposition 68-5 in the process, and finished 8-0 in Olympic League play. In fact, in three seasons Garcia’s team has never lost a league game.

Garcia wants nothing more than to cap her prep career with one of the only things she still has not achieved on the diamond: a CIF championship. In her sophomore year the Heralds lost to La Mirada in the first round in Division 1, and last year they made the Division 2 quarterfinals, losing to Grand Terrace despite a Garcia homer.

“This year we have a very strong team with a lot of young players who came in and have really developed,” Garcia says. “But we older girls are still here to lead, we all have a great relationship with each other, so I think we can win the title this year.”

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