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Unlikely Ladycat

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As girls’ basketball players at Brea Olinda go, Amanda Strum is not your typical Ladycat.

She didn’t make the Polcats in seventh grade. She was advised not to try out for the Ladycats in the eighth grade and didn’t even make a team as a freshman.

Now a senior, she’s the first reserve used, far removed from her freshman days filling water bottles and running errands as team manager.

When she wasn’t a gofer, Strum honed her skills on the sideline, shooting by herself and emulating the varsity players.

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Brea, ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 12 in the nation, continues its quest for a 10th consecutive Southern Section title tonight when it plays fourth-seeded El Dorado in a Southern Section Division II-AA semifinal at Valencia High.

“She’s like Rocky, or Rudy,” Brea Coach Jeff Sink said. “But Rudy got in one play [for Notre Dame’s football team]. Amanda is a contributor. She went from being cut to being a player who is desperately called upon. We were devastated when we heard she might not be with us.”

On Feb. 6, Strum’s doctor discovered a dermoid cyst--a solid mass--that enveloped an ovary after Strum showed signs of appendicitis. At a pre-operation examination last week, in an attempt to save the ovary, the cyst was gone.

Strum’s surgery was supposed to be this past Tuesday. She still experiences some discomfort while playing and will have another ultrasound examination after the season. Most importantly, she will get a chance to complete what she started.

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“The cyst was completely gone,” said Tawnya Strum, her mother.

For all that Strum--an undersized 5-foot-10 post player--provides the Ladycats, Sink and his players breathed a sigh of relief.

They describe her play as “clever.” Sink calls her the team’s best help-side defender, often taking a charge or a foul when a teammate gets beaten. She made up for her physical deficiencies--foot speed, jumping--by adapting in other ways.

“That’s her game--subtlety,” Sink said. “Many times, we’re more effective with her in the lineup because she’s such a clever passer. She’s so unselfish and doesn’t care a whit about her own offense.

“She makes [her teammates] better by almost suppressing parts of her game to allow others to express theirs.”

Sink tried to make a point to his players during Monday’s practice. At one point, he asked his players as a group, “Who’s the best passer on the team?” He wanted them to say Lindsey Davidson because he was trying to emphasize she should be touching the ball more often.

About half the team answered Strum.

“She does all the intangibles that need to be done; she rebounds, hustles for every loose ball and plays great defense,” said 6-foot-2 Chelsea Trotter, whose return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in late December took Strum out of the starting lineup.

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Most amazing, given her past, is that Strum is even on the bench.

* Four times Strum tried out for the Polcats, the seventh- and eighth-grade feeder program that most credit with the rise of the Brea dynasty. Four times she didn’t make the cut. But she didn’t give up. “My goal wasn’t to be a Polcat,” Strum said. “My goal was to be a Ladycat.”

* John Hattrup coached Brea to its mythical national championship in 1994, but according to Strum, as an eighth-grader she was pulled aside by Hattrup and “was told not to try out because I was not good enough to be a Ladycat.”

“I was upset, but it gave me the perseverance to have another goal in my life and say I’m going to be a Ladycat and I’m going to be on the varsity team one year,” Strum said. “That’s what started me on my journey.

“I like to prove him wrong. That was a big thrill in my life, to be able to say, ‘You were wrong and I am a Ladycat now.’ ”

Said Hattrup: “It wasn’t out of meanness that I told her. There were a glut of players, . . . a ton of people who were more athletic than her. They’re all gone now and she’s the only one left.”

* After failing to make the junior varsity as a freshman, Strum instead was the varsity team’s manager. After the season, Sink tried to gently discourage her from coming out as a sophomore.

“He wanted to tell me the truth--everyone was ahead of me, I hadn’t played for a year,” Sturm recalled. “I had to work extra hard and couldn’t leave over the summer, there could be no vacations, I had to be at every practice. I don’t think he wanted to hurt my feelings again.”

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She started the next season for the junior varsity.

Today, besides calling Strum clever, Sink also calls her “essential.”

Hattrup, who told Strum she didn’t have a chance way back when, remembers the night last year when Strum outplayed Ventura’s highly recruited Nicole Greathouse, a 6-2 center now at UC Santa Barbara, and asked, “Who’s No. 41?”

“I hadn’t seen her play since eighth grade,” Hattrup said. “Honest to God, she’s a throwback to the old Ladycat role-playing kid who never saw her name in the headlines, but you could count on them to defend and they were going to rebound and we were going to win.

“It’s a tribute to her that she hung in there. She has come a long way and fulfilled an obvious goal and dream in her life. I’m happy for her; she’s going to get what she deserves.”


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