McALLEN — McAllen Memorial’s Valeria Garcia, the dynamic senior forward who helped lead the Mustangs to four consecutive district championships, announced her intentions to continue playing basketball collegiately at Cornell University via Twitter on Friday.
Garcia committed to the Division I Big Red after receiving interest from a number of schools of varying sizes, including DII St. Edward’s University in Austin and UTRGV, but she jumped at the opportunity to play and study at an Ivy League university.
“When it did work out, I was ecstatic and I couldn’t believe it because I knew I was going to go somewhere that could provide me with a good future both academically and athletically,” Garcia said. “They have a great academics program over there and after getting familiar with the coaching staff and some of the girls on the team, I just felt like it was the perfect fit for me.
“I couldn’t imagine myself going anywhere else. I was so happy and I just feel so blessed to be able to keep playing basketball and not have to rack up the ball just yet.”
Garcia was named The Monitor’s All-Area Player of the Year and won the District 30-6A and the Rio Grande Valley Coaches Association Valley-wide Most Valuable Player awards after a sensational senior campaign for Memorial.
After suffering a serious ankle injury in the team’s season opener, the Mustangs’ four-year letterman came roaring back to average 15.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, 6.5 steals, 3.6 assists and 1.2 blocks per game, while also tallying 10 double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles.
But, for Garcia, those weren’t the numbers that mattered, at least not at first.
A recruiting exception unique to the Ivy League as a DI conference, student-athletes must gain admittance to the school through academic merit alone before a coach can grant them a spot on the team. Rather than receiving an outright offer, Garcia first earned an acceptance letter from Cornell’s SC Johnson School of Business.
“Throughout my four years as much as I’ve been working hard on my game, I’ve also worked hard in the classroom so I would have something to fall back on in case basketball didn’t work out. But I’m glad that all my hard work in the classroom has helped me be able to play basketball in college,” she said. “I think the academic part plays a huge role. I mean if I didn’t get into Cornell it would be a whole different story, but thankfully I was able to do it by myself and I was able to be recruited as well. I’m very happy.”
With her commitment to Cornell, Garcia becomes the latest of many student-athletes from McAllen Memorial to move on to elite DI programs with rigorous academic programs, joining classmates Campbell Speights and Gio Hernandez, who will play football and soccer at the US Naval Academy and UTRGV, respectively, among others.
She credits the competitive drive of her classmates through the years who have encouraged her and many others to strive for both academic and athletic excellence.
“I think especially for my generation, we did produce a lot of DI athletes that work just as hard in the classroom as they do on the court or on the field. I think it’s also my generation,” Garcia said. “I grew up with these guys and I’ve been with them since elementary at Gonzales and in middle school, most of us went to Cathey or Brown and now coming to Memorial. We’ve always been just such a competitive generation and we’ve always just pushed each other and worked hard.”
Garcia also applauds the culture in place at McAllen Memorial, which she believes helped instill her tireless work ethic and realize her hoop dreams were a reality.
“If you go to the Memorial training room, you look up at the ceiling and all the ceiling tiles are decorated by DI athletes that have gone through Memorial. It’s super cool and every time you’re in the training room, you see all these athletes who came through the same doors that you’re walking through and the same hallways you’re walking through and went on to play at the next level,” she said. “Memorial normalizes the idea that just because you’re a Valley kid doesn’t mean anything. Here at Memorial we build athletes and successful individuals, and I guess I’ve always been driven by that. Every time I was in there for treatment, I would look up and see all these people who hurt as well and went through these hallways for four years. If I was going to go to any high school program and be successful, it would be Memorial.”
When Garcia gets to Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, New York — about a three-hour drive from East from Buffalo — she’ll be the first player on her new team from Texas. In fact, she’ll be the first Texan to take the hardwood for the Big Red since 2014 and is determined to teach them a few things about the Lone Star State.
“I can’t wait to show them how to correctly use the word ‘y’all.’ I feel like that’s a really significant part of my vocabulary, so I’m just going to have to show them how convenient it is to use that word,” she said. “I definitely want to show them how to eat tacos because I know that up in New York they probably have the worst tacos you could ever imagine. If we ever have dinner or something, I want to make them some for sure.”