Millions of athletes around the world have learned the fundamentals of the games of baseball and softball while playing Little League®. They’ve also learned the importance of teamwork, dedication, and sportsmanship.

The Gatorade Company, in partnership with USA TODAY High School Sports, annually recognizes high school athletes in 10 sports from every state in the U.S., with one individual being named the national Gatorade Player of the Year in each sport. The award is given based on a combination of athletic ability, academic success and character performance, and often features many former Little Leaguers®.

Little League graduate, Rachel Garcia, 18, pitcher, was named the 2014-2015 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year in this past June. Garcia became aware of the news when two-time gold medalist with Team USA Softball, Stacey Nuveman, surprised her at school with the award.

“I knew who she was right when I walked in the room,” said Garcia. “I didn’t know what was happening until she handed me the award. It was hard to process at first but once everything started happening I couldn’t believe I won Gatorade National Player of the Year”

As the Softball Gatorade Player of the Year, Garcia is considered to be the “best high school softball player” in the United States. She finished her senior season with a 26-2 record on the pitcher’s plate including 20 no-hitters and 5 perfect games. Garcia struck out 418 batters in 175 innings. The USA Softball Women’s National Team also gave her a roster spot, which she considers to be one of her greatest achievements.

Inspired by her cousins, Garcia played Little League Tee Ball and softball in her hometown, Palmdale Calif. She claims that her participation in Little League contributed to her later success in high school.

“Participating and starting out in Little League helped me grow into the player that I have become today,” said Garcia. “Little league helped me learn how to play on a team, meet new people and was my first time learning how to play and compete.”

Softball is not the only activity on Garcia’s busy schedule. She maintains a high GPA, volunteers for different charities, and also plays guitar. She has committed to play softball at UCLA in the fall, where she plans to study sign language.

“My motto is to ‘finish stronger than you started,’” said Garcia. “I would tell all girls just starting out to play with heart, always give everything you have on and off the field and to compete. Grades are very important so don’t slack, stay true to yourself, stay grounded, be humble and to never be afraid to put in the work.”

Garcia is one of more than 30 Little League graduates who were honored as 2015 Gatorade Players of the Year for their state. Noah Shackles, the Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year for Hawaii competed in the 2010 Little League Baseball World Series.

If you know of additional Gatorade Player of the Year honorees in any sport who played Little League Baseball or Softball, please email: [email protected].