North Texas Daily

Junior left-hander Elder settles into key role after off-season transfer

Junior left-hander Elder settles into key role after off-season transfer

March 10
01:12 2016

Clay Massey | Staff Writer

@Clay_FC

When head coach Tracey Kee was in Utah watching the junior college softball nationals late last season, she spotted a 5-foot-6-inch, left-handed off-speed pitcher in the circle for Howard College. The lefty showed a calm demeanor on the mound – something that impressed the North Texas head coach.

The pitcher Kee eyed that day was junior Jessica Elder. Soon after Elder’s last game of the tournament, Kee offered her a scholarship with an invite to campus.

While the path to Denton was almost by chance, it was a dream come true for Elder to come play for Kee on a daily basis.

“I was really excited to be able to play at a [division one] program,” Elder said. “It was one of my biggest dreams, and to have that come true is just amazing.”

Kee was immediately attracted to the prospect of adding a left-hander to her rotation, especially one with experience. Kee had only one returning pitcher coming back to her team and hadn’t rotated in a southpaw in the program since her first year in charge.

“It’s a look we hadn’t had in a while, so that was attractive,” Kee said. “Obviously, her mixing of speeds was too. At this level you can throw it as hard as you want, but if you’re not spinning it, the ball is really going to go far.”

Elder began playing softball when she was very young, starting her career in little league. She ramped up her playing schedule around middle school, playing select ball throughout the summer.

The criminal justice major lived in California until she was a sophomore in high school, when she  and her family moved to Cedar Park, Texas – an Austin suburb.

Although Elder said the quality of softball is better in Texas, it was the middle school softball coach Elder played for in California who inspired her to play softball at a higher level. Her former mentor used to coach at St. Edwards University, and hearing about the experiences at the collegiate level inspired Elder to follow a dream of playing college softball.

“She told me how much she loved it,” Elder said. “And all the things she told me about it made me just want to do it. I was determined to play college softball.”

Junior pitcher Jessica Elder (17) throws a pitch towards home plate against the University of Tennessee-Martin during the Mean Green Spring Fling Tournament. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

Junior pitcher Jessica Elder (17) throws a pitch towards home plate against the University of Tennessee-Martin during the Mean Green Spring Fling Tournament. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

A few years later, Elder graduated high school and committed to Howard College, where she was named to the 2014 and 2015 WJCAC All-Conference Teams and earned All-Region Team honors in 2015. In her final season, Elder led her squad to a conference championship and a fourth place finish in the NJCAA Division One National Championship tournament – the same tournament Kee saw her pitch at.

Elder came to North Texas on that note and has continued to shine, working a team-leading 58.1 innings with a 3.24 ERA. The quick and apparently seamless transition comes as no surprise to rotation mate and junior Stacey Underwood, who was a transfer herself from McLennan Community College.

“It’s hard coming in from a different program and coming out of high school,” Underwood said. “Out of high school you know what to expect in a way, but a lot of things are different. We have a lot more opportunities at a [division one] than a [junior college]. I think she was really excited to come in and learn and play. She definitely acclimated better than the freshmen.”

Not only does Elder bring a wicked change-up and a left arm to a surging North Texas team, she also brings a funny, but shy personality her teammates and coaches enjoy having around.

“She’s a great pitcher,” Underwood said. “Her change-up is so awesome, and her personality is great too. She’s quiet, but she makes little funny comments. You don’t really hear her until she says something funny and then you’re like, ‘Was that Jess?’ She’s a great person and will be a lifelong friend.”

Coach Kee said she’s happy Elder came into her program despite knowing she would have to eat up innings. Whether it has been starting or long innings of relief, Elder has stepped up to the task for her team.

Kee said she also enjoys the positivity and light-heartedness Elder brings to the field every day.

“She’s kind of goofy,” Kee said as a smirk rolled across her face. “She’s laid back, she’ll laugh and you’ll very seldom see her in a bad mood. Off the field and when she’s in the bullpen not pitching, she’s fun to be around.”

While Elder enjoys her fun,  the ice-water flows through her veins when she steps into the circle.

“When she’s on the mound, she works diligently. She takes her craft very seriously,” Kee said. “She’s not one of those kids who irks you.”

After college, Elder dreams of being a juvenile probation officer. She got the idea for the career from watching shows most younger people are not watching – crime shows.

“Ever since I was little I’d always watch the CSI crime shows,” Elder said. “I just loved it and fell in love with it. Hopefully I can do something like that in the future.”

Until then, the junior has big plans in the minimum of two years she will have at North Texas.

“This season I hope we become conference champs and take it to the NCAA Regionals,” Elder said. “And hopefully do it again next season.”

Featured Image: Junior pitcher Jessica Elder (17) looks to the outfield before taking the mound for the next inning against Sam Houston State University in the Mean Green Invitational. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

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