Garcia Pinewood

Pinewood School’s Maia Garcia, left, battles for a rebound.

There was a time early this year when Maia Garcia wasn’t sure she would have a basketball or track and field season. Then, as the pandemic began to ebb early in the spring, the Pinewood School senior suddenly found herself playing two sports in the same season.

“At first it was overwhelming and hard to manage,” Garcia said. “But now I look back and realize, ‘Wow, I was able to play both after not thinking we were having a season because of COVID.’ I’m appreciative of being able to do that. It was worth it.”

Garcia more than managed the situation – she emerged from it as a champion in both sports last month. Just 15 days after helping the Pinewood girls basketball team claim the Central Coast Section Open Division title, Garcia won the girls high jump at the de facto state track meet.

While elated with her senior-year success, the 6-foot-3 Garcia was quick to point out that she didn’t do it alone. Along with crediting her basketball teammates, Garcia praised her coaches for allowing her to split time between the sports.

“I’m happy that Doc was open to it,” Garcia said of Panthers basketball coach Doc Scheppler. “My dad was my track coach, which it made it easier – and I was kind of a track team of one sometimes – but he was really understanding, too.”

That would be Darrin Garcia, who took over as Pinewood’s head track coach after his daughter transferred there as a junior. He previously coached Maia at Santa Clara High, where he also teaches.

“High jump is very natural for some people,” he said, “and she was always good at it.”

Darrin is in awe of what Maia accomplished in June.

“I don’t know how she did it, to be honest,” he said. “She played all 32 minutes in the CCS (basketball) final and the next day, she went to the CCS (track) semis to qualify. What she did was pretty special.”

After scoring a team-high 13 points in Pinewood’s 50-48 upset of top-seeded Mitty in the Open Division title game June 12, Maia cleared 5 feet, 2 inches to win the high jump at the semifinal meet. A week later, she returned to Soquel High for the CCS finals and jumped even higher – clearing 5-4 – but had to settle for second place.

“CCS was a bit disappointing,” Darrin said, “but the first thing she said when we got in the car afterward was, ‘Don’t even ask me, I want to go next week.’”

Go to state, that is.

“I didn’t want CCS to be the last time I jumped in high school,” Maia said. “I wasn’t happy with my performance, and I didn’t want to end with something I wasn’t proud of.”

Especially since Maia knew she was capable of more. Earlier in the season, she cleared 5-6; no one entered in the state meet had matched that this year.

Although the official California Interscholastic Federation meet was canceled this year due to COVID-19, USA Track and Field and VS Athletics organized their own meet in Arcadia for the state’s top athletes. Maia was determined to return with a medal.

“As a freshman, I was 13th (in the CIF trials) and 12 went to the finals,” she said. “As a sophomore, I was eighth (in the CIF finals), and the top six get medals. As a junior, there was no real season. This was my last chance to win a medal.”

And she didn’t need to beat – or even match – her personal record to grab the gold.

“I thought I’d have to clear 5-7 to win this,” Maia said. “To win at 5-5 was insane.”

Her road to rising to the top of the field of 24 high jumpers wasn’t normal, either. While many of her state competitors focused solely on track this year, she was juggling basketball as well.

“There were some days I would go high jump and then go straight to basketball,” she said. “When I had Saturday meets, I would jump in the morning and catch the last 20 minutes of basketball practice.”

While track was once her favorite sport – she recalled attending her dad’s practices at age 3 and began competing in fifth grade – basketball now rivals it.

“After being on an amazing team at Pinewood, it made them equal,” she said. “I don’t think I could choose one now.”

She won’t have to in college: Maia is headed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to play both sports. Darrin also ran track at Cal Poly.

“She made the perfect decision,” he said.