Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Aimee Creger Steps Into Justin's World

Photo (c) Miles Lacy
All rights reserved. Used by permission
If you look back through the history books of the sport of softball as the University of Tulsa, you'd be hard pressed to find one athlete with the stellar statistics and trophy case full of awards like Aimee Creger's.

A three-time All-American and two-time Conference USA Pitcher of the Year, Creger holds the all-time school record for pitching wins and strikeouts. Her career ERA was just a minuscule 1.40; in her senior campaign, she posted a 1.14 mark to go along with her 29-2 record.

A former member of Team USA, Creger wore the red, white, and blue during the 2013 summer season, posting a 1.17 ERA in her appearances.

This offseason, following her graduation from the Golden Hurrican, Aimee signed a contract to play for the Akron Racers in the NPF. She also began her collegiate coaching career, joining the Pittsburg State Gorillas as their pitching coach.

You can find Aimee on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Justin’s World: How did you get started playing softball?
Aimee Creger: My sister played so I was always around it and would go to all her games and practices. Sometimes her coaches would even let me practice with them, even though I was 4 years younger. So it has always been in my life and been something I enjoyed doing and, of course, what younger sister doesn't want to be like their older sister!? *laughs* I played because she played ,but ended up loving it just the same.

Justin’s World: Tell me about college. What made you choose Tulsa as your place to go to school and play ball?
Aimee Creger: Honestly, I had played in Broken Arrow my whole life and didn't even know Tulsa had a University until my summer ball coach told me they were interested. My goal was to go Division 1 and stay in Oklahoma, but I knew that I didn't want to go to OU, so that really only left OSU. Or so I thought. When I found out about Tulsa, I was shocked but very excited! I went on a visit and loved it and from there on, I knew it was the place I wanted to go. I had been told when I was younger that I was a difference maker, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do at Tulsa. I wanted to do my very best to help my team build and become the best.

Justin’s World: You come from an athletic family, with a sister who played collegiate softball and an uncle who played football for the Golden Hurricane. How did having a whole family involved with athletics help improve you as an athlete?
Aimee Creger: It definitely helped me stay motivated. I always had someone available to help me if I needed anything, whether it was advice or someone to go throw with. Also, having so many athletic relatives, they have all been extremely supportive and have come to a lot of my games. Sometimes, younger athletes don’t fully understand how important support is and how it can help improve you on and off the field.

Justin’s World: You hold many Tulsa school records and your name is all over the program’s history… what do you hope Tulsa softballers think of and remember when they hear the name “Aimee Creger” in five or ten years?
Aimee Creger: I would like for people to remember me as being someone who worked hard and who was dedicated to become the best I could be for my team. But in saying that, I only became as good as I did because of my team and coaches. They helped me compete and challenged me to become better every game. I also hope that anyone who hears my name thinks to themselves that I was someone who no doubt loved the game and showed it every time I stepped on the mound.

Justin’s World: Do you have a favorite moment or memory from your career?
Aimee Creger: As a freshman, it was very cool to pitch against OU and beat them on our home field. I can still remember everything about that game perfectly like it was yesterday. But since then, I have experienced many more thrilling games. I will absolutely never forget winning the Conference tournament my senior year in Boca Raton, Florida. The whole weekend was definitely a favorite moment of mine. I had a blast with my team and everyone played so great, and what better way to head into post season! Lastly, so many emotions overwhelmed me when Erica Sampson hit the walk off homerun to beat Baylor at our regional my senior year. It seemed like one of the longest games I had ever pitched and after she touched home plate, she walked up to me and gave me the biggest hug, followed by our Coach Jeff Allen. A simple hug from two people ended up making that moment one of the greatest for me and also one that I will never forget.

Justin’s World: In addition to being one of the greatest pitchers in recent memory, you also have taken your hacks at the plate and even have four home runs to your credit! Do you think your proficiency in hitting has helped you get better as a pitcher? How?
Aimee Creger: I would say yes, because having been a hitter, I know what a hitter thinks about when they’re in the box. The older I got, the better I understood the mindset from both ends, but it was also harder for me to utilize as a hitter. Every year I got fewer at bats because of my back injury, which I hated, but was also okay with just because it let me put all my focus into my pitching.

Justin’s World: I read that your dream has always been to play for Team USA… when you were given the opportunity to try out and ultimately made the squad a couple of years ago, tell me what you were feeling when you put that red, white, and blue uniform on for the first time.
Aimee Creger: Yes, it had always been a dream of mine since I was little. When I originally brought the subject up to my coaches at Tulsa, I was nervous. I thought they might look at me like I was crazy, but they were nothing but supportive and got all the contacts we needed. So when I got the invitation, I was so happy, I couldn't stop smiling.  When I got there, of course I was nervous, but the girls were extremely welcoming and all the nerves disappeared as soon as I stepped on the mound. When they announced the team, I was at my house with my sister and we started jumping up and down screaming like little kids. So not only was I proud to wear that jersey, but was also proud to be representing Oklahoma. Besides it being a dream of mine, I also wanted to make the team to show that you don’t have to come from a big city to play this game at the best level. I wanted to show that every girl has a chance to play for their country. And man, what a feeling it was. Standing for the national anthem was the greatest feeling and such an honor. Thinking to myself “does it get any better than this?”

Justin’s World: Give me your thoughts on softball in the Olympics… do you think it will return to the Games for 2020? Do you think the US will retain the longstanding dominance they've had, with the older, experienced players now gone from the squad?
Aimee Creger: I think there is a good chance that it will be in the Olympics in 2020. No matter what age, there will always be great athletes to be found in the U.S. I think one advantage the past Olympic team had that we don’t is they played with each other for how many years? They knew everything about each other, whereas the current team is still so young and don’t have quite as many years under us, playing with the same teammates. Doing that becomes difficult when softball isn’t in the Olympics, so I’m hoping that will all change when it gets voted back in.

Justin’s World: You played with Jill Barrett for four years at Tulsa, and now you get to be teammates once again in Akron. How great is it for you to have a familiar face on the team and backing you up on the diamond once again, just now at a higher level of the game?
Aimee Creger: It is very exciting! As well as comforting, because in college she was a machine and stopped everything, so I’m more than happy to have her on the field with me again, whether it’s in the infield or outfield. I know she did very well in the NPF last year, so I can only imagine how much better she has gotten (not that she wasn't a stud already). I’m looking forward to getting better myself and excelling with the entire Akron team!

Justin’s World: You've recently signed to play for the Akron Racers this NPF season… tell me when you first heard about the professional league and decided you might like to be a part of it.
Aimee Creger: I first heard about NPF when I was younger but really didn’t find much interest until my senior year. When I found out that I couldn’t do NPF and USA at the same time, I had to choose. So my senior year, I chose to play USA instead, which was great. I chose to do the same thing this year but didn’t make the team and I knew that I still wanted to play so I got ahold of Jill and a few days later I got my answer! They wanted to me to play as much I did! So we got everything squared away and now I’m an Akron Racer!

Justin’s World: Has coaching softball always been your career path of choice?
Aimee Creger: No, it was not. I always knew that it is something completely different to play the game than to teach it. I was worried that I would not know how to teach someone to do something that came so natural to me, but I started giving lessons and began to like it. I had then started to think a little about coaching and pretty soon got the offer from Pitt State. It all seemed a little too perfect and was a great way for me to jump into a career that keeps me in the game that I love so much.

Justin’s World: Let’s end with my signature question! If you were stranded on a deserted island for an undetermined period of time, but could take three things with you, what would you take? Boats and phones are off-limits.

Aimee Creger: I would take my Bible, my bed, and my iPod. But if that is off limits too then I’d probably take a toothbrush. *laughs*

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