In conjunction with its 100th anniversary, the California Interscholastic Federation’s Southern Section recently listed the 100 top athletes to have competed during those 100 years. Among them: Lisa Fernandez, a 1989 alumna of St. Joseph High School, Lakewood, a three-time softball Olympic gold medalist, and recently named to the Olympic Hall of Fame as part of the 2004 gold medal-winning U.S. team.On Sept. 10, Fernandez visited her alma mater in Lakewood along with a film crew from Fox Sports West. Seated in front of the softball diamond, she spoke with interviewer Pat McBride about her years at St. Joseph, pitching for Jester championship teams, and all that went into her Olympic preparation. Fernandez also spent time on campus talking with members of this year’s St. Joseph softball team and reminisced about playing in a CIF championship game the same evening as her high school prom. Noted Deborah Haley, her former coach and a present SJHS faculty member: “Lisa had an unbelievable ability to focus on one event at a time and never lose sight of her most important goals.”“I grew up around the game,” Fernandez noted during her interview. “My dad was a huge supporter. He played in Cuba. My mom would pitch to me in the living room. I had an affinity for the game. My parents—I am amazed at what they could do.”With her parents’ support came discipline. “If I didn’t play hard enough, then we didn’t play,” admitted Fernandez. “If I cheated, then we didn’t play. They encouraged me. My dad said, ‘Be strong. Be tough.’ My mom said, ‘There is only one way to play the game.’ She grew up in New York, so she was used to small places. If I cried, it wasn’t going to happen. My dad said, ‘You play with heart and guts.’ That is what was instilled in me.” Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Janet Duffy, former principal at SJHS, said that when Lisa was in school, “Mr. and Mrs. Fernandez were always present, friendly, and supportive parents. Besides being an outstanding athlete, particularly in softball and basketball, Lisa was a serious and excellent student with a kind of shy smile. She was a team player — on the field and in her class activities.”Fernandez spoke fondly about her years at St. Joseph, saying it was one of her grandmother’s last wishes that she get a Catholic education.“The best part about Saint Joseph is they care about their students,” she said. “My teammates, who I am still in contact with, were very supportive. They were exceptional. They accepted me as a freshman. I knew coming here that this place would support me athletically and academically.” She recalled her freshman year and opening night in a CIF game with Gahr High School. The game had to be called the first night after 21 innings because of darkness and then resumed the next night — eight more innings. St. Joseph won 1-0 in 29 innings. “We were the smaller school but it was about St. Joseph’s and what pride there is about the school,” she said. “I learned some very valuable lessons in high school. And I learned never to say ‘what if.’ Winning a CIF championship means getting every member on a team to play their best for each game.”There is nothing, Fernandez smiled, to compare with winning a CIF championship. But at the same time, “There is nothing like winning a gold medal in the Olympics,” she added, holding her three gold medals for the photo shoot. She praised those softball players who preceded her and never had the opportunity to play in the Olympics, those who played for love of the game. “If you have a love for this game, then show it,” she would say to any girl involved in the sport. “And encourage a girl to do the same.”Haley — who not only was Lisa’s softball coach but also her frosh-soph basketball team coach — recalled her former star’s positive attitude.“She was just an all-round good person and fun to be with,” said Haley. “For Lisa, it was always about the team, not just about herself. She would shake the umpire’s hand before and after each game. She thanked the catcher for every strikeout.” “Lisa's contribution to St. Joseph High School as a student-athlete went way beyond her personal and team stats, even though those were amazing. She was a leader on and off the field who inspired her teammates through her work ethic, dedication, attention to detail and love of the game.”Her maturity and outgoing personality, Halley added, helped Fernandez embrace her success while maintaining her perspective as she strove to continually improve herself and her teammates. After graduating from St. Joseph, Fernandez attended UCLA, became a four-time All-American pitcher, and is now the first assistant softball coach at UCLA. She and her husband Michael Lujan have a six-year-old son, Antonio, and live in Long Beach. “It is not surprising that she has had continued success in life and in athletics because of these values and traits,” said Haley. “It was a pleasure working with her as the softball coach, and an honor to remain her friend through the years, watching her continue to be a role model for young women.” {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/0928/fernandez/{/gallery}