La Jolla High School Vikings
By Ed Piper
La Jolla High School batterymates Katja Sarain and Stephanie Alvarez pack a powerful punch for the Vikings: Sarain leads all Division IV pitchers in strikeouts, with 62 in 76 innings. Alvarez, who recently moved to catcher, is busting the softball at a robust .514 clip on 18-for-35 hitting, with 16 RBIs and a home run. The pair of three-year starters, captains of a team with a lot of newbies onboard, tries to help keep it loose.
“When we beat Mar Vista (March 15),” Alvarez said, newly moved from her familiar third base position to behind the plate to fill a team need, “We just told the others (Mar Vista) may have played a lot of softball, but have confidence in yourself and what you can do.”
The Vikings were enjoying warm ups before a recent game, practicing hitting tosses from shortstop Linda Brown into a net and taking flies and grounders from Coach Anthony Sarain, Katja’s father. They truly seemed to be enjoying one another’s company. That’s key, because some of the girls have not played softball before, and others haven’t played outside their time on the La Jolla varsity team. The friendships contribute to team cohesiveness.
Katja, a right-handed junior, leads Division IV pitchers in innings pitched by far, having thrown in every inning of every game for La Jolla this season. Her repertoire includes six different pitches, including a screwball where she twists her wrist clockwise to create what’s in effect a curveball moving away from a left-handed batter.
Alvarez, who like Katja and Brown has played club ball outside of school teams, bats in the fourth slot in the lineup behind Brown. Outgoing and friendly, Alvarez enjoys her time on the field and playing the sport. Brown, a newcomer to the team as a freshman, is second on the team in RBIs, with 10.
Before a recent game, teammates were playfully throwing words and names of different foods around with one another as they moved through their paces, chuckling as they said “watermelone” for “watermelon”, foods like cake, other wordplay. One player repeated a little sideline dance at teammates’ urging as a photographer clicked pictures. It was all good, clean fun, and kept the team relaxed and ready for the action to follow.
Coach Sarain keeps it positive with the team. He stays focused and calm, and tries to encourage his newer players just for trying, and avoids severe criticism.
Mazzi Tamaiko, the team’s only left-hander, ably patrols centerfield to help less-experienced outfielders in left and right. She shows good speed on the base paths and out of the batter’s box, and has a decent southpaw swing at the plate, with a .303 average. She leads the team in runs with 14.
Katja Sarain fills the second slot in the batting order in front of Brown and Alvarez, hitting .342.
“Our motto this year is ‘Scratch and claw to win’,” said Katja, “because a lot of games we’re going to have to scratch and claw. We’re not going to win just because we’re playing. We have to work hard, and work hard throughout the game.”
Sushi is a food favorite for Katja. Math is an academic favorite. “I definitely want to become an architect and focus on building homes,” she said.
Her encouragement to her teammates is “Work hard, and either way, we’re a family. We’re always a family.”
“I focus a lot more in practice, and during the game I kind of just let my body do whatever,” said Katja of her mental approach to pitching.
“I think it’s just a game, work my hardest, and do my thing.”
Alvarez says the key to her scorching hitting this season is to “Feel confident in myself and try my best.”
Regarding the move to catcher, she commented, “It’s a new position. I did it when I was younger, but (I’ve been at third base for several years). I had to step up for the team.”
To lift up her teammates, she said, “I make them think that softball is just for fun. Just cheer them on all the time, and explain some things to them, but make it a fundamental-type thing.”
As far as heroes, Alvarez said, “I really like Jennie Finch. She pitched and played first base for the University of Arizona. She stepped up for her team. She went to the Olympics.”
Finch helped lead the U.S. team to a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics.
“I like monkeys,” the captain said. “I feel like they’re me. They’re goofy. I’m goofy.”