By STEVE KRAH
University of Southern Indiana baseball has enjoyed plenty of success since Tracy Archuleta stepped on campus at the Evansville school.
His first season leading the Screaming Eagles was 2007. Since then, USI has won nearly 500 games with a pair of NCAA Division II national championships (2010 and 2014).
Jeremy Kuester has been a part of much of it. The 2020 season — cut to 14 games by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic — was his 11th spring on the Southern Indiana coaching staff.
Kuester’s main responsibility?
“I make sure Coach Archuleta has everything in line,” says Kuester, who took the job in August 2009 after a playing career as an outfielder, first baseman and left-handed pitcher. “We both do everything. I work with pitchers 70 to 80 percent of the time. But he will go with the pitchers and I’ll go with the hitters.
“It’s nice to have a fresh set of eyes so we go back and forth — whatever we feel is most beneficial for the guys.”
Kuester has been asked many times what makes Archuleta a winner.
“What’s his secret sauce for success?,” says Kuester. “He connects with people really well. He can take a group of guys then pull the best out of each and every one of those guys.
“He’s a very intense, very driven individual with a lot of knowledge.”
Not that Archuleta won’t laugh on the diamond. He does like to do that on occasion.
“He knows when it’s time to joke around and time to be serious,” says Kuester.
The Screaming Eagles coaching staff, which also includes Andy Lasher and volunteer Kevin Brown, sets the expectations high. Lasher was recently named head coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University.
“We make sure they’re aware of what they need to accomplish every single day,” says Kuester.
As recruiting coordinator, Kuester looks to bring as much talent to the program as possible.
He says the difference between D-II and D-I often comes down to depth. D-I tends to have more of it. Plus, D-I can give 11.7 scholarships per year and D-II can grant 9. Not fully-funded, USI tends to bestow between 6 and 7.
From a player’s’ perspective, he might also crack the lineup sooner at a D-II school.
“That’s biggest recruiting sell when going after junior college guys,” says Kuester. “Competition (for playing time) is less because the depth isn’t quite there.”
Kuester is not wishy-washy in his player evaluations.
“I’m not the kind of recruiter that leaves question marks,” says Kuester. “I’m blunt. I’m straight to the point. I tell them exactly what I think.”
The pandemic has made planning for the future less cut-and-dried.
When it looked like the season would be at least be put on hold, Southern Indiana (6-8) was coming off a pair of games in Pensacola, Fla. Coaches would try to sort through contingencies and scenarios, which seemed to change daily.
“Nobody was prepared for this,” says Kuester. “The hardest part for us is communicating things with our guys. They see things online before its official. Administrators don’t have the answers either.
“Finally, we (as coaches) decided to sit back and wait. It’s out of our control right now.”
Kuester says the majority of returning players were hoping to play summer baseball. With some leagues canceling (about 10 USI leagues were going to play in the Ohio Valley League), they have been looking for opportunities. Leagues are expected to form at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and in Louisville.
“We want them to find some place where they can play the game a little bit,” says Kuester. “A lot of our guys have went and got jobs for the summer.”
Southern Indiana coaches have suggested for nearly 40 players to keep active and make the best of their situation.
“But we don’t know what they’ve done for the past two months,” says Kuester. “That’s the scariest thing. We want to make sure these guys are going to be healthy. It’s more risky for pitchers than position players.”
The last day of classes for USI was Wednesday, May 6. The term ended with weeks of online instruction.
“It’s not the easiest thing in the world,” says Kuester. “And I was only teaching one class this eight weeks.”
Besides coaching, Kuester is on the faculty and has taught introduction to kinesiology or an activity class (hiking, badminton etc.). He earned a masters degree in Public Administration from Southern Indiana in 2012.
Jeremy and Ashley Kuester were wed in September 2009. She is a nurse practitioner with in Evansville. The couple has three children — first-grader Bryce (7), kindergartener Alli (5) and Colton (3). At their Rockport house, built in 2017, internet access is spotty, making eLearning with Bryce a challenge.
Jeremy slowly downloads YouTube videos for his son to watch and helps him with his homework. When completed, they take a picture with the school-supplied iPad and upload it.
Kuester is a 2005 graduate of South Spencer High School in Rockport, Ind., about 40 miles east of the USI campus.
Jeremy’s father — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Kuester — is the Rebels head coach.
“I never thought about him as my dad,” says Jeremy of the time spent playing for Brian. “He never coached me growing up. Whatever the coach says is what you do. When we were on the field I called him Coach.
“It was coach-player relationship at home even during those four years.”
Baseball discussions did happen away from the diamond.
“He’s say you need to improve on this — not in a negative way, just trying to get better.”
Jeremy recalls his last high school game while teammates were sitting around and lamenting the end of the season.
“Dad gave me a big hug and said I’m proud of you,” says Jeremy. “I’ll never forget that.”
Brian Kuester and his father, Ivan, had also been assistant coaches at USI. That’s when Larry Shown was head coach.
Brian and Debbie Kuester’s four children are Jeremy, Shawn, Nathan and Katie. Shawn played baseball at the University of Evansville and Nathan at USI. Katie played softball at Olney Central College.
Jeremy Kuester played his college baseball at the Evansville (2006 for Dave Schrage and 2007 for Dave Seifert) and Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro (2008 and 2009 for head coach Todd Lillpop).
While 2020 was Lillipop’s 19th as KWC head coach, he was a young in the profession when Kuester played for him.
“You could tell was still trying to figure out how he was going to be as a coach,” says Kuester. “He’s done at real good job of maturing as a coach over the years.
“He’s a really good, genuine person.”
Kuester first met Lillpop when another South Spencer graduate played for the Panthers. Kuester opted to transfer there to continue being a two-way player.
He earned a Sports Studies degree from Kentucky Wesleyan.
The Kuester family of Rockport, Ind., includes father Jeremy, mother Ashley and (clockwise from left) Bryce, Alli and Colton. Jeremy Kuester is an assistant baseball coach and faculty member at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.
University of Southern Indiana baseball assistant coach Jeremy Kuester (center) makes a mound visit. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)
Jeremy Kuester (center) has been on the University of Southern Indiana baseball coaching staff of Tracy Archuleta (left) since August 2009. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)
Jeremy Kuester has been an assistant baseball coach at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville since the 2010 season. He is also on the USI faculty and has a master’s degree from the school. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)