In the Canyon High gym, the girls basketball team has a banner hanging under the scoreboard that says “2015-16 CIF finalists.” Alaina Garcia had a few ideas on where the next CIF finalist banner should go if the team chooses to get one after Saturday’s game against Valencia. “Right in the middle,” she said, pointing to a spot to the right of the current banner. “Or up there,” she continued, gesturing to a location north of the last option. Then, her eyes got big as she stretched her arms out, facing the longest, biggest wall of the gym that has “Cowboys” painted on it. “Right here,” she said slowly, as if experiencing a life-changing revelation.
Garcia can make light of a serious situation – or game – and still maintain competitiveness. “You can be super-duper mad and angry and you just look at her and you just start laughing for some reason because she’s such a fun kid to be around,” says coach Jessica Haayer. “She puts a smile on my face every single day.” Don’t let the goofy persona fool you, though. Garcia has been a difference-maker in big games. On Feb. 3, she scored eight points in the third quarter to lift the Cowboys over Valencia for the first time since 2013
. In the CIF-Southern section semifinal game against St. Anthony on Saturday, Garcia had 21 points and 11 rebounds
en route to the 62-58 win. “She’s definitely one of the most competitive people I know,” says guard Talia Taufaasau. “She’s always there all the time. You can’t ever count her out.” Garcia has the ability to take the pressure off of Taufaasau and Rachel Bowers, two of the usual top-scorers for Canyon. To her, filling a need and rising to the occasion is instinctual. “All I have to do is not think,” she says. “Because when I think, I just, oh my gosh, it’s just bad when I think. You’ve just got to play basketball. It’s so easy when you just know and don’t think.” The improvements the senior has made since joining the varsity team her freshman year haven’t gone unnoticed. From her junior year to senior alone, both her shooting percentage and rebounds per game have increased, according to MaxPreps. “Last year, I really was in a big slump and I knew I was a better basketball player than I was playing like and I was really getting in my head, but now it’s all about mindset,” Garcia said. “You just can’t get in your head and I feel like the team, we’ve lost a couple players and have been through a lot of adversity, so there’s people who needed to step up and I just knew I needed to step up.” She’s also become a more well-rounded shooter and more aggressive overall. “She used to be just an outside shooter,” Haayer said. “And now she can attack inside and penetrate and dish, so she’s really expanded her game from the three-point line inward, which we always love to see. “She’s aggressive on getting to the rim and aggressive to score rather than waiting for something to come at her.” So while Garcia might not be able to pick where a potential new banner could go, she’ll certainly be a factor in the game that it’s based on.