Members of the 2021 Holtville High softball team (front from left), Kalli Strahm, Kamryn Walker, Sofie Irungaray, Demi Johnston and Brooke Strahm pose with their CIF-San Diego Section championship patches in front of three family members behind them who were part of the 1998 Vikings who won the school’s first CIF softball championship and other family members behind them. | KATELYN BAEZA COURTESY PHOTO
LA MESA — When the Holtville High School softball team got the final out against Bayfront Charter here on Saturday, June 19, it was the first time a Vikings’ softball team won a CIF-San Diego Section title since 1998.
That’s 23 years of waiting for, literally, the next generation of softball champions to come around.
“There are so many similarities that reminded me of that time in 1998,” said Emily Irungaray, who was the sophomore catcher on the ’98 team and whose niece, Sofie Irungaray, starts in left field for the 2021 Vikings. “This is the team that deserved to be the next CIF softball champs. Everything just circled back to this next generation.”
Holtville’s 13-7 win over Bayfront Charter of Chula Vista on Saturday at Helix High School in La Mesa, crowned the Vikings CIF-SDS Division IV champions, only the second softball championship team in school history.
Ironically, two of the Holtville assistant coaches, sisters Keriann Johnston and Aimee Walker, played on the 1998 team and have daughters (third baseman Demi Johnston and shortstop Kamryn Walker) on the current squad, plus two nieces in pitcher Kalli Strahm and second baseman Brooke Strahm.
Four of the six players in the infield are cousins, so it’s no wonder familiarity with each other is never a problem for the Vikings.
“A lot of us are family, but really the whole team plays like we are a big family,” said 16-year-old sophomore Kalli Strahm. “Obviously us cousins are close, but even as a team we are all so close, and I think that’s why we’ve been able to be so successful.”
When the final out was made, the ball went from right field to Walker who relayed the ball perfectly to her cousin, Johnston, who put the tag on the Bayfront runner to kick off a celebration. Kalli Strahm was the first to get to her cousin and celebrate, followed by her sister Brooke and then Irungaray coming in from left field.
It was a family celebration and a revival of the 1998 team all celebrating on the field in 2021.
“That was 100 percent a dream come true for our daughters to get to experience a CIF championship together just like we did in 1998 was fantastic,” said Keriann Johnston, a senior and shortstop on the 1998 squad. “When we had kids and we knew they were so close in age, that was a dream of ours to get to see that celebration.”
The 1998 Vikings defeated Horizon Christian, 8-3, in the championship game. Holtville was coached by Mike Wahlstrom who has gone on to coach softball in the San Diego area and is the current softball coach at Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego. His assistant coaches that year were Kris Baker and Rodney Tabita.
“We had that old-school mentality back then that nobody was going to outwork us,” Johnston said about her ’98 team. “We might not have been as talented as other teams, but we were going to work harder than them and we weren’t going to allow ourselves to fail.”
Fail wasn’t an option on Saturday either. The next-generation Vikings did some damage with their bats, as Kalli Strahm had three hits, four RBIs and scored three times, sister Brooke Strahm had three hits, two RBIs and scored three runs and Sofie Irungaray had two hits and was on base four times.
That work ethic has been instilled in this next generation of players. Emily Irungaray remembers working with her niece, Sofie, on an 8-and-under team and making her practice every day, even days when she didn’t want to be there.
“It has been ingrained in them that they have to work had to get where they want to be and win,” Emily Irungaray said. “And they all have that mentality that they are going to win and do whatever it takes to get there.