Two UCLA softball seniors to stay on another year in light of Olympics postponement
Redshirt senior pitcher/first baseman Rachel Garcia plans to play with UCLA softball and train for the Olympics in 2021. (Ashley Kenney/Daily Bruin)
By Jon Christon
May 15, 2020 2:03 p.m.
When she heard that her team was getting back two star players, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez had just one thought for them.
“Welcome back,” Inouye-Perez said.
Both redshirt senior pitcher/first baseman Rachel Garcia and senior utility Bubba Nickles will rejoin UCLA softball for the 2021 season.
Originally, Garcia and Nickles were going to sit out all of the 2020 softball season in order to train for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and then rejoin UCLA in 2021, but with the coronavirus pandemic pushing the Olympics back a year, the same plan would force the players to sit out two seasons of college softball in order to train.
Inouye-Perez – who was in contact with the United States’ coach Ken Eriksen throughout the process – advocated for a change of plans.
“To take two years off of school is difficult for anyone – allowing them to get their degree and to continue to train will put them in position to be at their best,” Inouye-Perez said. “(Eriksen) was very open to finding a way to support these collegiate athletes and make sure they have the most successful path in this strange time.”
Under the new plan, the players will represent both UCLA and Team USA in 2021.
“This is a great opportunity to just grow and learn and train for the Olympics, so I’m looking at it as all positive even though the Olympics are postponed another year,” Garcia said. “It’s just super exciting to be able to represent both teams and go out this last year with a bang.”
Nickles and Garcia had been training with Team USA over the past few months, including the “Stand Beside Her” pre-Olympic tour that matched them up against college teams across the nation – including UCLA.
Although Team USA only played a fraction of the scheduled tune-up scrimmages and training camps before they were canceled, Nickles said she picked up habits that will prepare her for the upcoming season – both with UCLA and Team USA.
“One of the biggest things that I picked up from (team USA) was just how disciplined the players were with their own routines and how consistent they were,” Nickles said. “I saw that and thought, ‘That’s a good idea, I should probably do that to mentally prepare for practices and games.’”
While the two players will officially be Bruins once again in 2021, it will be in a limited fashion.
Team USA will hold periodic training camps that will accompany scrimmages. The two players will attend these training camps and scrimmages when necessary, which will potentially force them to miss UCLA practices and even games.
Both Garcia and Nickles said they acknowledged the challenge in this, but Inouye-Perez said she has no doubts that the two players will succeed.
“(Nickles) and (Garcia) are just already elite – they are Olympians because they represent the best of the best and the top one percent,” Inouye-Perez said. “We are proud that they are Olympians, and they will be gone for some training events and some potential competition during the collegiate season, and we have no problem with that.”
Even without Garcia and Nickles this past season, the Bruins finished as the No. 1 ranked team in the country with a 25-1 record heading into conference play.
Garcia – the 2019 NFCA National Pitcher of the Year – will be rejoining a pitching staff that includes the 2020 Softball America Pitcher of the Year in sophomore Megan Faraimo and freshman Lexi Sosa, who pitched a perfect game in her final start of the season.
UCLA was set to only lose two players from this year’s roster, but as a result of the NCAA’s decision to grant an extra year of eligibility to student-athletes in spring sports, they may not lose any.
Inouye-Perez said the big roster’s experience will only help lead them where they want to go with the return of Garcia and Nickles.
“We’ll be a large roster, but we’ll be very experienced,” Inouye-Perez said. “The program is really focused on what is best for the team, and (Garcia) and (Nickles) are truly able to say they are best for this team.”