McALLEN — Valeria Garcia’s climb to the upper echelon of the Rio Grande Valley basketball world followed a long, meandering route to the top.

Garcia, who was entering her senior campaign after already logging three years on McAllen Memorial’s varsity squad, nearly had her season cut short because of a severe ankle injury in the season opener.

Instead, Garcia came roaring back onto the court, leading the Mustangs on an incredible winning streak with her grit and aggressive play on both ends of the court to earn The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year award.

“I never knew if it was all going to pay off. I just wanted to give it my all while I could, because the seniors always told me your years in high school are going to pass by in the blink of an eye and you’re going to look back at all these moments and wish that you wouldn’t have taken them for granted,” Garcia said. “Getting recognized with this award just makes it all feel worth it and I get to walk away from this with no regrets. That for me is just wholeheartedly insane and I’m so thankful to be here and to have received this.”

Garcia was an absolute tour de force for the Mustangs, but her first big contribution to the team was making her return to the court.

In total, the Mustangs’ senior forward was sidelined about a month after injuring her ankle against Harlingen South. She worked feverishly during that time away from game doing anything possible to get back on the court sooner.

After finally making her return, though, Garcia realized that the setback had given her some valuable perspective.

“When I was hurt, I was doing rehab like three times a day and just trying to do anything I could to get back on the court,” she said. “Getting back on the court, I was just grateful for every second that I could play and I guess that’s what really drove me throughout my senior year, just knowing that I couldn’t take a second for granted and I could never step on that court without knowing that at any second I could get hurt. I had to play as hard as I could in order to make the most of the time that I was on the court.”

Garcia definitely made the most of what remained in the season when she made her return to the hardwood in early December.

A shaky showing at the NEISD Tournament in San Antonio served as the turning point in Memorial’s season. It marked not only Garcia’s return to action, but the first time the entire team had played together in season.

After that tournament, Garcia led McAllen Memorial to a 15-game winning streak before a bi-district playoff loss. The team was 15-6 with her in the lineup, and she helped guide the Mustangs to a perfect record in District 30-6A.

“It always feels great to win and I guess the mentality we had was that losing was unacceptable at that point,” she said. “Losing is not something we’re going to let happen and it was never in our minds to ever lose a game, so the mentality was winning is the only option we have and that’s all we’re going to do.”

During her time at McAllen Memorial, Garcia helped the Mustangs capture four consecutive district championships, a 96-42 overall record and 51-1 mark in district play. Ever the basketball perfectionist, Garcia still looks back at that lone loss wishing for a do-over.

“The only time I lost one was my freshman year against McHi,” she said. “That’s the only district game I ever lost.”

In 21 games for Memorial, Garcia averaged 15.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, 6.5 steals, 3.6 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. She was named 30-6A’s Most Valuable Player and tallied 10 double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles.

Garcia became a 2020 McDonald’s High School All-American Game nominee and she was one of the best players in the Valley at creating shots, but also exceled at cleaning up offensive rebounds and igniting Memorial’s transition game with steals and deflections.

“My coach really likes to explain it as my ‘tenacity and grit,’ on the court,” Garcia said. “My senior year, that was my niche. If I could get a steal, I’m going to score. I guess other teams really got frustrated with that because I know against some schools I would have like 10 steals. Those rebounds and steals are the easiest things to help you score. All those things come easier if you have rebounds and steals.”

Despite the personal accolades, Garcia was happy to end her high school career defending that Memorial tradition and preparing the next group of Mustangs to do the same.

“I just always tried to make sure to help my girls as much as possible on defense, offense, on and off the court,” she said. “I was always trying to help them see the game better, think of it better and have a better approach to certain situations.”