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‘Be like Pete’: Oaks Christian softball continues in memory of Coach Ackermann

They still line up their gloves in a neat row along the third base line before practice, still gather in lines to give serious handshakes and fist bumps to each coach after practice.

They still run off the dugout before games and greet fans after games.

Still. Still. Still.

Four months after his death, the Westlake Village Oaks Christian High softball team honors all of Pete Ackermann’s customs and still speaks in the present tense of their late coach as a beloved grandfather. The shock is gone. But the mentor void behind the third-base line still lingers.

A sign hangs in center field that reads “Peter Ackermann Field.” There’s a sign in the batting cage with Ackermann’s quote, “Culture Before Championships.” The team wears jerseys emblazoned with the words “#PlayForPete.”

However, this is more than dedicating a season or playing for someone they’ve lost. Grief has no schedule, and every Lions practice is an exercise in mourning, taking comfort in those traditions after a loss.

“It just feels like a piece is gone,” said senior first baseman Anahi Arreola. “I feel like sometimes I can feel it, but I can’t hear him.”

He has placed a tremendous responsibility on the first-year head coach. cheyenne coyle, an All-American shortstop at Arizona State and, most recently, an assistant athletic director at Oaks Christian High School. Ackermann left impossible shoes to fill as the program’s founder, and Coyle has tread carefully, working with players who told athletic director Brad Cook they didn’t want to change much after Ackermann’s loss.

Coyle embraced the older sister role admirably, Arreola said. nurture And through 10 games, Oaks Christian is 9-0-1, a team that has held together through tragedy and therapy welcoming a new leader into the fold.

“As we continue to grow and learn what she is like as a coach, it felt like home again,” Arreola said of Coyle.

Just as traditions helped them move on, memories helped absorb the loss. Spend a few minutes with the team and you’ll get gold nuggets from Ackermann’s stories. Senior Justine Lambert laughed as she recounted her favorite: meeting a random guy at Chick-Fil-A on a freshman trip to Utah, being turned away asking for his Snapchat, and Ackermann stopping the team van for cross the street and persuade the boy to come back and ask Lambert his Snapchat.

Coyle, in his own way, has been trying to “be like Pete” to show players that he cares about them as people, he said. Lambert, a Howard University fiancé, said she sometimes struggled academically and that Ackermann would send her text messages to check on her grades; Coyle recently texted her that she was proud of her after a rough week, a gesture that resonated with Lambert.

After going 34-1 in Ackermann’s last season, the Lions could be more loaded this year. Arreola is one of the best hitters in the area, with eight home runs in 27 at-bats. And they’re deeper on the mound, with sophomore Paityn Lavin pairing up with junior Emelia Davis to give Oaks Christian a formidable double.

The missing presence is still there and will be all year. So will be the gloves along the third-base line, and the handshakes after practice and the handshakes after games. I’m still trying to make “Ack” proud.

Prystajko becomes an all-round force

Huntington Beach’s Zoe Prystajko was one of the best pitchers in the Southern Section last season, Stanford’s commitment posting a 0.46 ERA.

The cerebral senior has upped her game in a different way this year: After hitting .271 last season with three home runs, she’s hitting .632 with five home runs this year in eight games. A shortened swing with less movement is propelling Prystajko off to a tremendous start as one of the best two-way players in Orange County.

“Last year, I had this stigma of being a one-dimensional player. … I think that drives her,” Forsberg said.