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Capo Valley's Gjertsen hitting her stride
Amanda Gjertsen’s softball career has endured plenty of changes and adjustments, but Capistrano Valley’s senior shortstop has endured and improved every time.
The catalyst of Capistrano Valley’s offense, Gjertsen is seeing the fruits of her labor pay big dividends during her senior season.
Once a self-proclaimed “clunky” youth soccer player, Gjertsen bats leadoff for the Cougars, and heading into league play, she’s batting .460 with more home runs than singles.
“She always gets on base,” sophomore teammate Jasmine Sievers said. “She’s hard to get out, and when she gets on base we know it’s going to be a good game.”
Recently, her play sent the Cougars to the quarterfinals of the prestigious Michelle Carew Classic. In what is considered one of the toughest high school tournaments in the country, the Cougars came from behind to defeat Great Oak of Temecula and Kennedy in the first two rounds.
Gjertsen played a big role, contributing with a go-ahead, two-run triple in the bottom of the sixth inning to give Capistrano Valley a 5-4 lead over Kennedy.
Showing her versatility, Gjertsen then pitched a scoreless seventh inning to give the Cougars the win. Already with lots of great softball memories, she said that may be a new favorite.
“The first thing that crosses my mind is that she’s the first person I want to bat when the game matters,” Cougars coach Ashley Evans said. “She just comes through time and time again.”
• • •
Gjertsen’s softball career has required plenty of changes, but it sure came easier than playing soccer.
During her youth, Gjertsen gravitated toward soccer because it was the default sport of choice, but “I wasn’t very good. I was a slow runner. I hadn’t grown yet, so I was just clunky.”
After she played soccer for four years, her father, Tim, had an idea.
“How about we try softball?”
Her dad played baseball in high school, so she had a natural knack for the sport when she first tried it at 9 years old.
Though her body type was awkward in soccer, her arm strength turned softball into an instant winner.
“I had a natural knack for the sport, and I think that’s probably what interested me in the beginning,” Gjertsen said. “I was never great at soccer, so to be able to pick up a ball at 9 and throw it the farthest was fun.”
Though arm strength was an initial selling point, the constant focus required in softball hooked her for good.
• • •
Gjertsen’s drive always has been there, and she has had coaches in place to keep her on the right path, starting with her father.
“He played baseball, so he likes to think he’s the best hitting coach around,” she joked.
Since the beginning, father and daughter have taken to the field or the cages to improve all aspects – hitting, fielding, pitching. He has had just as many bumps and bruises as she has through the journey, including a recent shot to the head in the cages.
Not to worry – he’s tough, she said. “He got right back in there. He’s motivated me to continue. He’s pushed me through the rough patches and we’ve continued to play.”
At 13, Gjertsen joined the California Cruisers 14U team and met Mike Hassein, who was instrumental in shaping her love of the game.
“I think he definitely got me in shape,” she said. “He worked with us a lot on sprinting so that when I hit my growth spurt, I wasn’t awkward on the basepaths. We did leg lifts after each practice, and I grew to love them because they help with everything in softball.”
Twice during her playing career, Gjertsen has had to deal with those growth spurts on top of multiple position changes.
Throughout her career, Gjertsen has pitched and played every infield position, finally finding a spot at shortstop for the Cougars before the start of her junior season.
The second of her growth spurts added 2 inches and occurred simultaneously with that transition two summers ago, which made fielding ground balls a new challenge at first.
“She had that spurt from sophomore to junior year, so she was a little awkward,” Evans recalled. “She was in the right spots to field a ground ball, but she would have a problem maneuvering with her feet.”
One advantage that became clear was Gjertsen’s power at the plate, which caught Evans’ attention immediately.
Gjertsen had played for Evans in club for four years before Evans became the head coach of Capistrano Valley’s softball program before this season.
“In her younger years, she was more of a contact hitter,” Evans said. “Her power was always there so lots of line drives, but she’s really started to elevate her swing over the past couple years, which has generated a lot more power and balls over the fence.”
Gjertsen hit .415 during her junior season, with a team-high seven home runs and 10 doubles. She’s already nearing those numbers this season.
Because of those numbers, Gjertsen said she sees less strikes this season, so jumping on the first good pitch she sees is of utmost importance.
“I’m looking to take the first best pitch I get because I know I’m not going to get very many, maybe one or two per at bat, so I need to take advantage of those and be patient on the others.”
• • •
Family is a major part of Gjertsen’s life and, from a leadership standpoint, she treats the Capistrano Valley softball program as such.
Her father has been there since the start of her softball career, as has her mother, Michelle, and brother Erik, who have sat through nearly every club and high school softball game she has played throughout her career.
For that reason, she committed to Loyola-Marymount University during the summer after her freshman season. Despite a coaching change before the start of her senior season, Gjertsen signed with Loyola-Marymount after exploring other options.
Gjertsen pushes herself in the classroom as well, which added to her decision.
“I get the best mix of school and softball. I get to play Division I and get high academics,” she said. “It’s an hour and 15 minutes from home, so I get my space, but my family can also be there for the games.”
Before she heads off, however, Gjertsen has one more South Coast League turn to play with her Capistrano Valley family.
Gjertsen always has been a leader by example and experience, Evans said, but this season she has taken to being a vocal leader for the Cougars.
However, instead of barking out orders, Gjertsen offers reassurance and encouragement, which helps boost the confidence of her teammates.
“She has such a great mentality and work ethic,” Sievers said. “She’s always the first one here and the last one to leave, and she always makes everyone feel at home. If something goes wrong, you don’t know with her because she’s always positive.”
Gjertsen’s leadership will be most important in the next few weeks, when Capistrano Valley challenges for the South Coast League championship.
But with the knowledge that she has talent around her, Gjertsen feels no pressure heading into games against tough teams in Mission Viejo, Dana Hills and Aliso Niguel.
After all the adjustments, preparation and hard work, Gjertsen finally can use her height as an advantage. From clunky soccer player to power hitter, Gjertsen has found her sweet spot.
“It was kind of a hard thing,” Gjertsen said of the adjustments. “It takes a second, but height is definitely an advantage in everything that I do.”
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