Former Viking still bleeds green and yellow

May 26, 2002|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Sports Editor

Imperial Valley sports fans will forever remember Aimee Strahm as a Viking, part of the Holtville High softball team that in 1998 captured the CIF San Diego Section Division IV crown.

The nation, however, will remember Strahm, now 20, as the 2002 All-America honorable mention and honor-laden second baseman of Point Loma Nazarene University's Crusaders, who on Wednesday took on the Oklahoma City University Stars in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Softball Championship final in Decatur, Ala.

While the Crusaders lost 2-1 in controversial fashion — Strahm will get to that a bit later — no one can take away the experience.

"Emotionally it was just a roller coaster, coming out and losing our first game (in the championship tournament). It was an eye-opener," Strahm said.


The Crusaders dropped the opening game of the tourney 5-1 to Spring Hill University of Alabama, pushing Point Loma to the losers' bracket of the double-elimination event. Strahm and company battled back, winning eight straight to make it to the final.

Bittersweet ending aside, in a lot of respects the 2002 season has been a breakout one for the Point Loma Nazarene junior and physical education major.

After switching from a right-handed batter to a lefty in her freshman year, she did well "slapping and bunting," she said, earning all-conference and all-region honors.

However, by her sophomore year, as she tried to swing the bat with some authority, her average suffered.

This year Strahm was able to make it all work, outdoing her freshman year by leaps and bounds. She batted .420 in regular season and .419 during the NAIA tourney where she went 13-for-31.

"It was kind of exciting that I finally put it all together," she said.

And with great performances come great accolades as she was designated an All-America honorable mention, an honor she doesn't seem all that excited about.

"I found out after the (NAIA) tournament."


"When it comes to a team sport your individual awards don't mean as much as team awards," she said. "I was definitely more excited about being second in the nation than being All-American honorable mention."

That's Aimee, the proof-positive that "There's no ‘I' in team" has yet to become cliched.

Said Strahm's former Holtville High School head softball coach Mike Wahlstrom, now a J.V. baseball skipper at Torrey Pines High in Del Mar: "She was always like that. She hit in the top of the order and it didn't matter if she went 0-for-4 as long as we won. It was always a team goal."

Still, he said it was great to read about her getting the game-winning hit in the Crusaders' first NAIA tournament meeting with Oklahoma City.

(Because the tournament was double-elimination and Point Loma was coming from the losers' bracket, the Crusaders and the Stars played twice Wednesday with Point Loma taking the first game 1-0. Strahm ripped a single into center field in the fourth inning, scoring Elizabeth Riemer.)

"She's doing wonderful. I've had the chance to watch her that last couple of years. The attitude is still there and the enthusiasm is still there," said Wahlstrom. "There's always that desire to win."

Maybe now it's easier to understand why Strahm can seem a tad bitter when discussing the championship game.

Here's a recap:

· Going into the pivotal (and, again, controversial) eighth inning, the game was knotted 1-1.

· With a runner on first, an Oklahoma City batter tried to advance a teammate with a bunt.

· The bunt was fielded by the Crusaders' shortstop, who got the force out and tried to turn a double play but dropped the ball on the exchange.

· Oklahoma City's coach protested the out because of the dropped ball — dropped on the exchange and after the out had been called, mind you — and won after the umpires reversed their decision.

· On the next play, an errant throw to first, credited to Strahm (she said she never even touched the ball) then scored a Oklahoma City runner, bringing the score 2-1.

· Point Loma went three-and-out in the bottom of the eighth, losing the game and the title.

"We all just feel that (the Stars) didn't really win on that run. Their coach even came up to us after the game and said, ‘I know you probably don't want to hear this, but you guys have a better ball club than ours.'

"Emotionally it was rough. Everyone wanted it so bad. You could see it in everyone's faces. They played so hard," Strahm added.

A senior next year, Strahm will be one of the clubhouse vets trying to lead her team back to the final.

While several position players will graduate, among them the catcher, third baseman and centerfielder, Strahm's confident the "team" can weather.

"We have a lot of strong people coming back," she said.

Strahm is not playing for championships or All-America honors.

"I honestly play softball because I love my teammates. I play for the school. That's what gets me out there every single day, and that's the best part of softball."

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