Rick’s Sports Corner: Burbank’s Kara Valencia, Selfless Team Player

The outfielder will attend Chico State University and may walk-on to the women's softball team.

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By Rick Assad

Kara Valencia has been playing softball for as long as she can remember and for her it’s about enjoying er time on the field, being part of a team and of course winning.

“I approach the game knowing my teammates will be there for me and pick me up if I make a mistake or do something to help the team. I’m confident in my abilities and use that to my advantage,” said the senior right fielder for the Burbank High softball team who is batting .367, second best on the squad, and has smacked a team-high 18 hits including a home run for a club that is 7-8 and 1-1 in the Pacific League. “I try to just have fun instead of worrying about the game until I’m in the batter’s box.”

Valencia went on: “I drink a lot of water and tea and eat an acai bowl before a game,” she said. “It just gives me a good feeling because I love fruit and feel refreshed.”

Through the years, Valencia, who has played on the varsity for four years and will attend Chico State University, and may walk-on to the women’s softball team, has improved.

“After playing for so many years I’ve learned how to deal with the pressure and turn it into a mind game,” she said. “I take the pressure and use it against the other team because I know they feel it too. I just have to continue to be confident and trust myself and my teammates.”

Valencia, who has a .469 slugging percentage, second best on the team, a .404 on-base percentage, second on the squad, and has scored a team-best seven runs, came to softball at a tender age.

Burbank’s Kara Valencia is a major contributor with the bat and glove. (Photo by Austin Gebhardt)

“I started playing softball in kindergarten with my best friend because her father had a T-Ball team. She asked me to join after we became friends and we grew up playing together until late middle school,” she said. “I fell in love with the sport and continued to play it, bringing me to my senior year of high school starting on varsity.”

Batter versus pitcher is the biggest challenge, and it’s something Valencia, who was an honorable mention as a junior, looks forward to.

“When I’m in the batter’s box I focus on how I present my body language walking up to the plate. I look if there’s anyone on base. How many outs and I imagine what spot I should hit the ball towards If I am able to.” she said. “I look back to see what other pitches have been thrown on what count and where anyone else has stood in the box and what happened. I also make sure to stay confident and trust my swing and technique.”

Practice is something few see, but the effort is constant, and the payoff is a well-played performance.

“I like the feeling of getting a solid hit after putting in the work I have after so many years. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget, even if I don’t play in college,” Valencia admitted. “I love the feeling of a team instead of a solo acting sport. It’s the feeling it gives when you know you have people to hold your head up, when you’re feeling down or support you when you’re at your best.”

There are a number of factors that produce a successful day on the field.

“I believe the physical aspect of softball only can get you so far. At some point it comes down to trusting yourself, your mind, your body and that all comes down to your mentality,” Valencia pointed out. “You could have the most beautiful throw and swing but if you don’t trust it, it won’t work with you and will work against you.”

Valencia is a team leader and also selfless.

“As a senior I’ve earned the respect of my teammates and coaches from being on the team since my freshman year,” she said. “They have seen me react in all types of situations and pull through when given the chance.”

Burbank coach Melissa Sanchez understands what Valencia means to the team.

Playing top-notch defense is a priority for Kara Valencia, the Bulldogs’ right fielder. (Photo by Austin Gebhardt)

“Kara is an outstanding player but an even better teammate. I have had the privilege to coach her for four years on varsity,” she said. “She never misses practices. She always finds ways to improve her game and has an uplifting personality.”

Sanchez added: “It has been fun having a player like her around. Her positive energy is contagious to the team,” she said. “She is easy to coach. Kara continues to get stronger and stronger at the plate. She comes up big for us when we need her most.”

Valencia’s best outings are still vivid.

“Out of my high school career so far, the game that stands out is my junior year when we played Crescenta Valley and the game went 14 innings on a Saturday afternoon,” she said of that 4-3 triumph. “That game could’ve gone either way and both teams were locked in and focused. That was such a fun experience that brought our team closer as we cheered for our teammates and picked each other up after every play, hit, or error. We never let our heads look down and that’s why this game stood out so much to me.”

Sanchez noted Valencia’s improvement.

“She is so strong and crushes the ball out of sight,” she said. “She works hard off the field to improve her game, which is why she is so successful.”

During Valencia’s junior season, the Bulldogs carved out a 14-12 record, 4-5 in league and lost in the opening round of the CIF Southern Section Division IV playoffs to Fillmore 6-3.

Valencia could have played another sport but opted not to.

“Before coming into high school, I played soccer, basketball, and volleyball for Parks and Recreation, AYSO and sometimes for my friends’ club soccer teams,” she said. “As I got older, it was between soccer and softball because doing two club and travel teams was difficult. In the end, I stuck with softball and couldn’t be happier as I strive to be better.”

In a few months, Valencia’s time on the field will conclude and she will be off to college.

“After our season ends, I am going to miss my teammates that I won’t be able to see anymore due to going away for college and my team’s support through my high school career,” she said. “My first ever home run over the fence was during my high school senior season and I’ll never forget that moment. The memories we have created on and off the field will always be a core memory, from going to In-N-Out to getting boba after a game. I’ll also miss the adrenaline of being on the field during an important team.”

The games and excitement will be over, but not the memories Valencia left during her time on the team.

“She is definitely one that I will always easily remember,” Sanchez said.

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