Vanessa Garces, Texas A&M University-San Antonio softball’s senior outfielder, will forgo her extra season of eligibility to attend law school in spring 2023, with the intention to go into criminal defense. She has narrowed down her choices to St. Mary’s University and the University of Texas at Austin.
Garces was named a second-team all-conference player in the RRAC in her last year with the Jags.
“I can say that I am proud of myself for that,” she said. “I was just blessed that it happened to me…I finished my career off on a great note with that.”
Garces graduated in spring 2022 with a Bachelor of Science degree in criminology and a minor in political science. She could have continued playing for the Jaguars in spring 2023 because of the extra season of eligibility that the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics approved, following the cancellation of the spring season in 2020 because of the pandemic.
She said now that she is a “retired player,” the reality of not playing softball hasn’t set in.
“I still feel that I’m going to come back next semester,” she said. “I’m going to be back at TAMUSA, moving into the dorm, getting ready for 6 a.m.’s and then going to practice.”
Garces transferred from Coastal Bend College to A&M-San Antonio before the 2021 season, which was the Jags’ first inaugural season as a program.
The current assistant head coach, Javi Tovar, was previously an assistant coach at Coastal Bend so he knew Garces’ situation following her sophomore year.
Garces said Tovar had known that she was looking for another place to play.
Shortly after, Tovar mentioned Garces to Nicole Dufour, A&M-San Antonio’s softball coach.
“She gave me a call and right away I took it,” Garces said. “I don’t know what it was, there’s just something about San Antonio that I really loved.”
Garces explained the hardships the program faced in its first year and how it helped shape the mindset going into year two.
“A lot of people didn’t have faith in us and a lot of doubts just because we were a new program,” she said. “The fact we did OK (in the first year), it just sparked a flame in us, even more to come back the next year, which was this past season, to do better.”
Heading into that season, Garces said she felt like it was a “natural instinct” for the upperclassmen to become leaders to the young freshmen, who weren’t used to the college softball atmosphere.
That opportunity allowed many of the seniors to befriend freshmen. Specifically, Garces found friendships with freshman catcher Julia Pinzon and freshman first baseman Karina Guzman.
The chemistry showed on the field as the Jags gained wins against Our Lady of the Lake University and Texas A&M University-Texarkana during March and April.
Garces said she believes many of the teams in the Red River Athletic Conference “overlooked” them throughout the season because of how young the program is.
You have no clue how many people have still doubted us, and we finished in the top four of our conference overall,” she said. “That was a great feeling to just kind of shove it in everybody’s face. As a second-year program, we had so much success, and that is just going to continue on over the years.”
The stellar play by the Jags earned them a spot in the RRAC conference tournament, which was the second time they clinched a spot in the tournament but the first time the Jags would be able to compete.
Garces explained how the team was going to play with “no regrets,” but reality set in as the Jags lost their first game against the University of Houston-Victoria.
“After they had scored a couple runs, we all kind of just got down on ourselves,” Garces said.
Sitting in the hot sun in the middle of May, the Jags knew they were on the brink of getting eliminated from the tournament, but all the players gathered together trying to regain their confidence.
As the players talked among themselves, coach Dufour expressed the reality of the weekend ahead.
“This is it, if you lose one more game, y’all are done,” Dufour told the team after the loss.
Following that pep talk, the Jags won the next three games to make it to Sunday but were eliminated by the University of Houston-Victoria.
The loss served to be Garces’ last time putting on the Jags uniform as she was looking forward to graduation and law school.
“It’s not how a senior would want their career to end…you always want to end your career with you holding up a trophy,” she said. “But that’s not what it was for us. I think for us, it was a bigger picture to show that we are young but we’re coming for that top spot.
“And I won’t be a part of that later on but to be able to say that I was part of the beginning and the foundation to start this successful program. That is what made me proud at the end of the day…but to know what we as seniors left behind, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
Garces served as the vocal leader for the Jags by cheering on her teammates during their at-bats, while on the base paths and when on the field playing defense. Her tenacity could be heard from the dugout and from centerfield.
Dufour had lots of praise for Garces’ attitude during her last season with the team.
“She’s just a hard worker,” Dufour said in a July 13 interview. “She didn’t start this season as a starting outfielder, so she worked hard at practice, she worked on her own.
She got to the point where she did end up finishing off as our starting center fielder. That work ethic, that fight in her, it showed and she was the one that earned that right to play center field.”
On the flip side, Garces praised Dufour’s coaching style because it was far beyond just coach and player.
“She had that motherly instinct within her,” she said. “She saw each and every single one of us as her own children. She wanted each and every single one of us to succeed like she would her own children.”
Alongside Garces, freshman third baseman Andrea Ortiz and junior infielder/outfielder Peyton Vasquez were both honored, as first-team all-conference players. Garces found it to be an “amazing moment” to share the honor with two teammates.
“The fact that it was Andrea and Peyton makes me more excited because I knew if it was anyone else, it would definitely be them,” she said. “Andrea’s a great third baseman and a great hitter. Peyton is just a phenomenal athlete all around…she’s just amazing in general.”
Garces said she is “curious and excited” to see what happens with A&M-San Antonio’s softball.
“I just know softball is going to be so successful with all the girls coach Nicole is bringing in,” she said. “There’s a lot of different opportunities to bring successful players and athletes into this program and just into TAMUSA athletics.”
Although Garces is graduating, she still intends on being involved with the Jags.
“I’m excited to come back as an alumni and just see the success…that we were able to be part of.”