Fernandez Continues Making An Impact At UCLA
By Michelle Smith
Lisa Fernandez can walk a recruit down the hallway at UCLA and introduce them to the same academic counselor that she had, show them the softball field and point out the same groundskeepers that she's known since she was a teenager.
Fernandez has history at UCLA. She made history at UCLA. And much, much more.
The Lakewood, Calif., native was a softball star for the Bruins, the biggest and brightest star in the history of the program. She's also one of the greatest players in the history of the game, a double-threat as a power pitcher and one of the game's most feared hitters.
Fernandez has won three Olympic gold medals as a member of the U.S. national softball team. Her former teammate Dot Richardson said, "Lisa Fernandez is, without a doubt, the No. 1 softball player in the world."
In the 2004 Olympics, Fernandez set a record with a .545 batting average. She set the single-game Olympic record with 25 strikeouts against Australia in 2000.
At UCLA, she was a four-time All-American, the three-time national player of the year, the 1993 Broderick Award winner as the nation's outstanding collegiate female athlete and won two national championships, along with two runner-up finishes.
Her career earned-run average of 0.22 ranks No. 2 in NCAA history. She has 11 no-hitters in her career, including two in the 1993 College World Series. Fernandez said that playing in the Pac-10, which has produced 22 of the sport's 28 national champions, was the ultimate challenge for a collegiate athlete.
"When it came to softball, the Pac-10 is where it's at," Fernandez said. "Most of the time there's as many as five, six, seven teams in the top 25. Day in, day out, it's a challenge."
But Fernandez also remembers the "vision and drive" that seemed so commonplace in the Pac-10.
"So many of the athletes I knew had the same mindset, the same goals, the same expectations," Fernandez said. "You were around people that breed excellence. Not only athletically, but academically. I knew that softball was going to help me have a career, but I also knew I would have a great education that would be able to sustain me."
Fernandez smiled as she thought back to her days on the U.S. team, a roster that was dominated by players who came through the Pac-10.
"On one of our teams, there were five players from UCLA and four from Arizona and I think it bonded us even more because we all came from the same conference," Fernandez said. "Prior to that, I was all about beating those guys, but we had to band together. We've seen some of the other conferences rise up and want to take what's ours. We have a lot of pride."
Fernandez, a member of the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, returned to Westwood to be a coach, now in her 13th year as an assistant on the Bruins' staff. UCLA has won four national championships in her time on the staff.
She wanted to teach and mentor. She wanted to bring more young athletes to this extraordinary place. She wanted to be close to the excellence.
"We aren't just talking about women's sports. This isn't a men's versus women's thing. The Pac-10 has represented the best of the best," said Fernandez, who is married and has a five-year-old son, Antonio. "I feel like I could go to any type of sporting event and run into some sort of Pac-10 representation at that event, someone who has accomplished something you can be proud of."
But she won't lie. She's pretty partial to the Bruins.
"I mean come on, you get off the 405 Freeway and you're in Bel Air or Westwood. Talk about the weather, people are going to the beach in January, and there's a lot of support here," Fernandez said.
She said she finds herself among a group of alumni who have returned to coach at UCLA.
"I feel like a majority of coaches played here, they have assistants on staff who played here and competed here and are now coaching here. I think that's how you really know how good a school really is, when the alumni continue to come back.
"There are so many people here that were here when I was in college," Fernandez said. "It's a great feeling."