For Katelyn Strauss, it was the perfect finish to a stellar freshman softball season.
Last month, the Ferris High School alum was named a 2022 All-American, one of 11 players named to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III first team.
This was especially rewarding for a family that lives and breathes softball – her older sister Michele was a standout softball athlete at Ferris and Spokane Falls Community College, and played the game for as long as Strauss could remember.
“It was just super exciting,” said Strauss, who helped lead North Dakota State College of Science to a fourth-place finish at the NJCAA D-III World Series. “Like, wow, out of all the girls that are playing in my division, I’m one of the 11 who was given this title.”
NDSCS softball coach Mike Oehkle had an inkling that his standout freshman might make her way onto the first team.
“I knew she was nominated for the award,” he said. “And I kind of figured she would have a pretty good shot of making it to the All-American team.”
That didn’t seem remotely plausible early on for Strauss.
“She wiped out her whole fall (preseason when) she sprained her ankle pretty good sliding into second base (during practice),” Oehkle said.
The NDSCS softball season started in February, but Strauss was again sidelined with an ankle injury after stepping on a ground ball a month earlier.
“She’d literally just been cleared out and this was her first week back at practice (when it happened),” her mother, Sharon, said.
Strauss was struggling with adversity off the field, as well. She had to move to a different dorm due to suite-mate conflicts, and later moved to a third dorm when she was hired as a resident assistant. In addition, there were class conflicts that limited her practice time, not to mention time the team missed due to uncooperative North Dakota weather.
“This year was probably our worst year (for weather) since I’ve been here,” Oehkle said. “Our schedule got pretty compacted so we had to play a lot of games in a row.”
It all took a toll on Strauss.
“She had a few times saying ‘maybe I’m not supposed to do this,’ ” Sharon Strauss said, recalling several phone calls she had with her daughter.
That all changed once she hit her stride in the circle. Strauss was among the top three nationally in a dozen pitching categories – ERA (1.70), strikeouts (a school-record 323) and strikeouts per seven innings (13.41), among them. She finished with a 21-7 record for the 39-12 Wildcats.
Over the summer, Strauss says she’s focused on improvement – with her sights set on the NJCAA Division III strikeout record of 394, set in 2010 by Itasca Community College’s Katie McBride.
“The sky’s the limit for (Strauss),” Oehkle said. “She definitely has a shot at the national strikeout record.”
Strauss credits her success to several coaches over the years, both college and in high school. She also says the time she spent with coach John Smith and assistant Amber Helbling from her club softball team, the Spokane Mudhens, was instrumental in her development.
“I don’t think I’d be the player I was if I didn’t have to see all the different coaching styles for every coach,” she said.
Helbling, in particular, stressed the importance of confidence.
“She tells me to find my swag,” Strauss said. “When I’m not confident, I just remind myself (to) be swaggy.”
While Strauss is focused on her final season at NCSCS, there’s still the matter of whether she’ll move on to a four-year university. Oehkle said he had received several calls from schools looking to schedule games against NDSCS – mainly to scout Strauss, who would have two years of eligibility after next season.
“She’s definitely going to bring our program to another level,” Oehkle said. “She’s accomplished quite a bit in just the one year she was here.”