Grand Mesa Softball League allows players to improve skills

Emily Crow gets a sign from the third base coach

Pitching against high school varsity hitters might be a little intimidating for a 13-year-old, but it’s just what Elisha Jahnke needed.

“Pitching against some of the older girls has been nerve-racking,” Jahnke said. “But it’s been fun, and a good experience for me.”

Jahnke plays in the Grand Mesa Competitive Softball League during the week. On the weekend, she pitches for the 14-under GJ Force, a traveling team.

Jahnke said after facing high school players, pitching against her own age group is a lot easier.

“When I go back with the Force, it’s not as hard,” Jahnke said. “The best part for me has been pitching against the older girls, and I think I’ve done well against them.”

Jahnke is on one of nine teams in the Grand Mesa competitive league this summer, and her experience is exactly what Scott Else was envisioning last year when he started the league.

“You can’t simulate live game situations,” Else said. “They are getting 21 games in the season where they have time to work on skills.”

Twice a week from late May through June, players who are on summer traveling teams or high school teams play league games at Grand Mesa Little League.

The emphasis is on improving skills, not winning and losing.

The league has nine teams, with players ages 13-17. Six of the teams are high school or summer teams, with three more rosters formed from players from various teams looking for more playing time.

Else, the league president and founder, coaches his daughter’s team. Taylor Else plays infield for Central High School.

Scott Else said all the teams are fairly equal.

“There are a couple of teams that are a little better than the rest, but most of the games are pretty competitive,” Else said. “Most parents say this has been the best thing to happen to
softball in this town.”

The goal of the league is to allow the girls, who spend most of their weekends traveling to tournaments from Salt Lake City to Denver, to work on their skills at home during the week.

Mike Hindson coaches of the Cowboys, which draws players from Central, Grand Junction and West Middle School.

Hindson says the games are a competitive practice.

“This allows them to stay on top of their game and better themselves,” Hindson said. “If someone’s got a weakness on a changeup, they’re going to work on it in these games.”

Jahnke is on a team made up of players from throughout the Grand Valley.

Basalt, Palisade and Montrose each have a team in the league. Montrose had enough players interested to field a varsity and JV team. For Palisade, the league provides the Bulldogs the chance to play together all summer to be more prepared for the fall season when August rolls around.

“This league has been fantastic, and they have all improved,” Palisade summer coach Tass Crow said. “It’s been fun to see the competition, and it helps when we get to our (Western Slope) league because our league isn’t as strong as (the Southwestern League), so getting to see teams and players from Junction, Fruita and Central has made us better.”

Crow’s daughter, Emily, is a pitcher on the team, and said she hopes the time spent in the summer can help the Bulldogs improve on a 3-5 league record from last year.

“This summer we are doing a lot better because we are getting used to playing with each other and we are becoming more of a team,” Emily Crow said. “We’re all looking to improve, so we can start winning more games in our league.”

The summer league wraps up its season this week, and Else expects next summer to be even bigger. In only its second season, the league expanded by three teams.

“All the high school coaches love it, and I think it’ll keep growing,” Else said.


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