Lisa Fernandez respected everyone. But fear was never an option.
She is Lisa Fernandez, after all.
She prepared for the best of the best every day, so she never had to be in a situation where she feared anyone, not even when pitching UCLA to a national title in 1992.
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For someone who won three Olympic gold medals and remains one of the greatest softball players of all time, Fernandez says there is nothing like being a collegiate athlete, and there is something truly special about being a UCLA Bruin.
What set her apart was really just a will — Fernandez was completely motivated by people that told her she couldn’t.
Fernandez recalled talking to some fellow recruits or coaches her first year at UCLA and saying “If I get beat out, we're going to have a pretty darn good team.”
The Bruins won a championship her freshman season in 1990, as Fernandez went 11-1 with a 0.25 ERA while hitting .310 with 22 RBI.
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Fast forward to 1992. Fernandez is the ace for the Bruins in the midst of a perfect junior season. The softball is still white. Yes, white. The Bruins are facing Arizona, and Debby Day was in the circle for the Wildcats. Fernandez described Day as a competitor, just like she was.
Fernandez took it pitch-by-pitch in that game, as she does in all others. To this day, she tells the pitchers she coaches that “If you’re not mentally fatigued by the end of the game you haven’t given it everything you have.”
Fernandez described the moment UCLA right fielder Jennifer Brewster sent one over the fence as a relief. They had done it. She said it was something you can never guarantee and never take for granted. She was present in the moment, never taking a pitch off. That led to some scoreless innings, and the score was 0-0 going into the 7th inning. Any mistake made here was the difference between a win and a loss.
But there was no mistake. The Bruins won the title as Fernandez ended the season 29-0.
Yet looking back in hindsight, it is not the statistics she remembers most. It is the experience.
“Not everyone has the opportunity to win a national championship,” Fernandez said.
Fast forward again to her senior year. And boy did she have some plans for how she wanted to finish her collegiate career.
Fernandez sat down with assistant coach Kirk Walker and listed it all, as she has always been one to be motivated by goals.
She wanted to lead the nation in batting average, but as the same time have the lowest ERA. She wanted to win Pac-10 Player of the Week and Pitcher of the Week in the same week. And lastly, she wanted to finish on top.
“Lisa, you can’t do that,” Walker said.
And that’s all he had to say.
That season, Fernandez had the highest batting average in the nation (.510) and the lowest ERA (0.25.) She won Pac-10 Player of the Week and Pitcher of the Week — in the same week.
Then came the championship game, and they fell 1-0 to Arizona.
On that day, Fernandez learned probably the most valuable lesson as an athlete.
She walked into the locker room postgame, and a reporter asked something around the lines of, “Lisa, you had an unbelievable career, what is it like to finish your collegiate career as a loser?”
But Fernandez was OK. She couldn’t have given any more. Arizona was better on that day. She learned to be a true champion, which Fernandez said consists of three things: “Sacrifice, dedication, and work ethic,” whether you win or lose.
Though 1993 and her collegiate career ended in a loss, it is one that stays with her more than a lot of the victories. She learned to focus on being the very best that she can be and that there is a process to how you prepare and play. Winning comes with focusing on that process.
That became been her mission going forward.
“Given the opportunity to compete, I will be prepared and I will be ready for whatever the outcome is,” Fernandez said.
Lisa Fernandez at UCLA: