Karlee Juarez had her future mapped out before she saw one pitch of high school softball. In 2015, Juarez made a verbal commitment to attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and join the softball team. Four years later, Juarez, now a Bret Harte High School senior, stuck to her word, put pen to paper and made it official.
For many teenagers, making a decision that lasts four years and sticking to it is a rarity. But Juarez had no desire to look anywhere other than Miami University to continue her education and softball careers.
“Once I give my word, I stick to it,” Juarez said. “My mom and dad raised me to be a loyal and trustworthy person. I also wasn’t tempted to look at other places because I love the school. I love every little aspect about it.”
As an eighth grader, Juarez made the trip from her home in Angels Camp to Oxford to visit the campus. Once on the Ohio campus, Juarez knew she was where she was meant to be.
“I had expectations for not only their softball program, but also as an educational institution, and I was just blown away,” she said. “I went home, talked with my mom and dad, and they helped me understand what I should be looking for. I was able to stick with my decision because, deep down inside, I knew it was the perfect school for me in all aspects.”
Juarez comes from an athletic family. Her father coached Bret Harte volleyball for years and has been the head of the Bullfrog softball program since 2017. Her mother coached volleyball and her older sister, Katie, was a three-sport athlete at Bret Harte, and just finished her sophomore volleyball season at Valley City State University in North Dakota.
During her freshman and sophomore years, softball wasn’t the only sport Karlee played. As a sophomore, she was a key piece in Bret Harte’s run to its first-ever volleyball section championship appearance. That spring, she spent some time running track when she wasn’t on the softball diamond. But when her junior year rolled around, Juarez decided to put all of her effort and focus into softball.
“I played volleyball for my sister,” said Juarez, who, during her sophomore volleyball season, had 475 assists, 118 digs, 23 kills and eight serving aces. “I really wanted to play with her and she really wanted me to set for her. But I decided to just be a softball player because with this game, you never stop learning. You can never master it, because you are going to have good days and really bad days. This game keeps you humble and that’s what I love about it.”
Judging by Juarez’s softball numbers, she has had many more good days than bad. In three years as a varsity starter, she’s hitting .628 with an on-base percentage of .720 with 81 hits, 75 runs scored, 11 runs batted in with only six strikeouts. But regardless of whether she gets a game-winning single or pops out with the bases loaded, Juarez makes sure to remain as even-keeled as possible.
“You can control your FACE, which is: focus, attitude, communication and effort,” Juarez said. “With that, even if you fail, you can come right back and prove yourself worthy again. And no matter how many times you fail, if you keep playing the game, you are bound to do good.”
During her first two seasons, Juarez played primarily behind the dish, with the occasional trip to the outfield. As a junior, she was moved to shortstop and had a fielding percentage of .963. While she can play any spot in both the infield and outfield, Juarez’s favorite spot is patrolling center field.
“You get the freedom to run, dive, chase, track down balls and try to snag home runs,” she said. “It’s just so much fun to be out there and to be as loud as you can.”
But what if she’s asked to play another position during her senior year or when she gets to college?
“Any opportunity to play and be on the field is what I love,” Juarez said. “If I want to play and I have to catch, then I’m going to catch.”
Juarez has hit leadoff for the majority of her Bret Harte career and hasn’t had any issues getting on base. She has walked 36 times and been hit by nine pitches. And once she gets on base, Juarez always has the green light. In three years, she has stolen 102 bags.
“My strength is to get on base,” Juarez said. “I need to get on, run the bases and have someone drive me in to score runs for the team. But I wouldn’t just classify myself as a get-on hitter; whatever situation is presented to me, that’s what kind of hitter I will become.”
While Juarez has had no problem finding success on the Bret Harte diamond, the same cannot be said for the program in general. In the past three years, Bret Harte has won just 10 games. Juarez isn’t a fan of losing, but she tries to remain a positive teammate and uses the losses as motivation to improve.
“I hate to lose,” she said. “But in life, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. It’s how you deal with the loss and come back from that. It’s about how hard you work to try not to lose and to push yourself further and further. That’s what matters the most.”
Juarez is going to attend a school and play for a team that expects to win. Miami won 35 games in 2019 and 2017. Juarez will play against major schools, such as the University of Iowa, Indiana University, Michigan State University, the University of Kentucky and Ball State University. Even though she’s going from the Mother Lode League to Division I softball, Juarez isn’t worried that she won’t fit in on a college field.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m nervous or afraid,” she said. “I might not be up to speed, but being at Miami with a team who I know will be helping me and with coaches who will be coaching me, I feel like I’ll be caught up to speed quickly. So I’m not worried.”
After her time at Miami is complete, Juarez hopes to become a teacher and teach either math or art. And with so much softball experience under her belt, perhaps she will keep the family tradition alive and one day coach a team of her own.
“As of right now, I don’t see myself coaching,” laughed Juarez. “But if the opportunity presented itself, I might take it.”