Home is where the heart is, and there is no doubt that hers is in Fresno.
Fresno State softball head coach Linda Garza is a Fresno native and lifetime Bulldogs fan. Garza was born and raised in California and attended Hoover High School.
She went on to play at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), where she played softball from 1998-2001. Upon graduating, Garza went right into coaching. Her coaching career started in Arkansas, where she served as the assistant coach for two seasons. She then became an assistant coach in Tulsa for one season, followed by four years at Purdue.
In 2010, she decided to take on the head coach position at Wright State. However, Garza decided to move back to California in 2012 where she went back to being an assistant coach for Cal Poly and moved on to coaching for University of California, Riverside from 2013-2016.
Garza said coaching at Fresno State was her dream job because this is one of the most successful softball programs in the nation. The team made it to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship 30 times.
Garza grew up being a fan of the softball team, witnessing its success through the years. She said her success comes from her coaches.
“The challenge of working with young adults is helping them grow on and off the field,” Garza said.
She said she wants her players to win in the classroom, as a person, as spouses and in life. She said making work enjoyable is the goal.
Garza describes herself as competitive, fiery and passionate.
Senior left fielder and Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Kierra Willis said she never thought she would end up at Fresno State, but she loves the school and the softball program. Willis said her decision to choose Fresno State stemmed from the previous coaches because she thought it would be a good fit for her.
Willis said she initially did not know much about Garza besides the fact she was a Fresno native coming from Riverside.
“I just told myself to be open-minded. Not all coaches are the same, so I knew things were going to be different,” Willis said. “She seems like a coach that wants to go out and win.”
Willis hopes to lead the young team by providing experience and strong veteran play.
“I plan on just going out and playing as if it’s another awesome year,” Willis said. “This team is young, but very strong, and she [Garza] is capable of taking this team a long way.”
Senior second baseman Malia Rivers transferred from the University of Georgia, and she said she fell in love with the Fresno community.
“They have such great support from the fans,” Rivers said.
She said she was really excited when she found out about Garza becoming head coach.
“Hopefully she is the little push that we’ve needed to get us through regionals,” Rivers said. “We are already a competitive team, but she brings that out even more in us. We will have more energy. We want our presence to be heard on the field, and we want our pitchers to feel the energy we have behind them.”
Fresno State’s softball program is among the top 25 out of 300 in the country. Garza said her goal is to take the team to regionals, super regionals and eventually bring home the College World Series title.
“This is my last stop. This is where I want to be,” Garza said. “There are 300 jobs in the country but this is what I want.”