Tag Archives: Jim Kominkiewicz

High school assistants make impact around Indiana

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coaches of high school baseball programs across Indiana have enjoyed help from some longtime assistants.

Here are some of their stories:

Rhett Welliever (Crawfordsville)

Going into his 36th season in 2021, Rhett Welliever has been the pitching coach at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School for his whole run.

“I’m a humongous believer in owning that inside part of the plate with the fastball,” says Welliever. “It seems to have worked.

“If you can throw the inside fastball, every other pitch is available to you.”

Welliever wants his hurlers to employ solid mechanics. But he is also unique in today’s deviating from today’s prevelant approach.

“My pitchers are always working on stuff, stuff, stuff,” says Welliever, who knows his players enjoy throwing hard. “Most people work on location, location, location.”

Welliever has his catchers set up on the inside black for bullpens about 60-70 percent of the time. Many of his hurlers go hard in and soft away though some have done the opposite.

“It’s OK if once in awhile you hit a batter,” says Welliever. “Don’t get upset.”

Breaking balls are also thrown hard.

“We’re trying to create as much spin on that ball so it breaks as late as possible and the hitter has the least amount of time to react to it,” says Welliever. “I think that’s the best way to do it.”

Welliever has his pitchers build arm strength with long toss and with burnouts aka pulldowns.

The 2008 Crawfordsville pitching staff racked up 397 (No. 3 in the IHSBCA Record Book; No. 1 Lafayette Jeff fanned 450 in 43 games in 1971).

Steven Rice fanned 198 batters in 2009 and finished his Athenians career (2007-10) with 521 K’s.

Welliever worked alongside brother-in-law and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer John Froedge through 2020. 

“One of John’s strengths teaching the fundamentals of fielding,” says Welliever. “(Strong defense) helps pitchers.

“It gives them confidence to attack the hitters and throw strikes.”

Brett Motz, a 1995 Crawfordsville graduate, is now Athenians head coach. Motz played at the University of Evansville, served as a graduate assistant at Purdue University and was head coach at North Putnam High School before returning to his alma mater, where he is also the strength & conditioning coach.

The Athenians won Class 3A state championships in 2008 (32-4) and 2011 (29-6).

What keeps Welliever coming back?

“It’s working with the kids and getting them to the point where they’re confident about themselves,” says Welliever. “It’s seeing them succeed in baseball and in life.”

He has witnessed many former players giving back to the community as coaches at the youth and high school levels.

“It is the most satisfying thing,” says Welliever, who grew up around New Market, Ind., and is a 1980 graduate of Southmont High School in Crawfordsville, where he played baseball for Mounties head coach George Davis and counted Froedge and the Taylor twins — Dave and Dan — as teammates. Dave Taylor went on to help found the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

“We played a lot of baseball together,” says Welliever. “It was a really special group of guys.”

Dan Welliever, Rhett’s father, taught junior high and was a wrestling head coach and an assistant in baseball, football and softball at Crawfordsville.

Jamie Welliever, Rhett’s brother, is retired from teaching and has spent two tenures each as head baseball and head wrestling coach at Southmont.

Landon McBride (New Palestine)

A middle school coach for five years (seventh and eighth grade teams often play up to 20 games while feeding the high school program), Landon McBride joined the New Palestine High School staff for the 2007 season. He is the Dragons infield coach and helps with hitters on a staff led since 2012 by Shawn Lyons

“The thing that jumps out at me the most about Coach Lyons is his absolute passion for his kids,” says McBride. “If you’re not in the inner circle you may not see that. But he does a great job of having his finger no the pulse of where our team is at and where each individual is at.”

McBride sees Lyons as steady.

“He doesn’t get too high; He doesn’t get too low,” says McBride. “He tries to keep our players on that even-keel, knowing there’s going to be ups and downs everyday.”

On game days, McBride serves as Lyons’ right-hand man, bouncing lineups off one another and trading ideas about strategy while also coaching first base.

McBride emphasizes fundamentals when it comes to his infielders fielding ground balls.

“We’re getting reps in every day — the way we think is the right way,” says McBride. “With hitting, we believe in going the other way. We’re utilizing our speed, bunt and steal bases when we can.”

McBride regularly throws batting practice.

“I’m 59 but I’m still chucking it in there,” says McBride. “I try to give them a little sense of velocity (by moving the L screen closer to the plate.”

When the varsity field is not available, New Pal baseball has been able to use the turf football field for long toss, tracking fly balls and taking grounders.

A 1980 graduate of Marshall High School in Indianapolis where he played three seasons for Bob Tremain and one for Brad Goffinet, McBride was a four-year player for Lynn Morrell at Marian University in Indianapolis — at the time an independent NAIA program.

McBride says he appreciates the discipline, structure and attention to detail that Tremain and Goffinet brought to Redskins baseball. 

“(Coach Morrell) liked getting the ball into play and swinging away,” says McBride. “It was the pure joy of being around the game.”

Landon, a partner in Indiana Property Services which gives him the schedule freedom to coach baseball, and wife Shari McBride have three children — Ryan (30), Angela (28) and Wes (24). The boys played baseball and Angela was also an athlete at New Palestine.

Mike Zeilinga (New Palestine)

A 1976 New Palestine graduate, Mike Zeilinga coaches Dragons outfielders and leads the junior varsity. 

Zeilinga began coaching boys basketball at New Pal in 1996 and led the freshmen for two seasons and the JV for four. He joined Al Cooper’s baseball staff in 2003. Cooper was a Dragons senior when Zeilinga was a freshman.

New Palestine earned a Class 3A state runner-up finish in 2003 and state title in 2004.

“The kids keep me young,” says Zeilinga. “I’ve always enjoyed teaching.”

Most Dragons practices begin with stretching and throwing followed by individual defensive position work and team drills (cuts, double cuts and knowing situations).

“Coach McBride is excellent about working with our infielders,” says Zeilinga. “He makes sure they are moving with every pitch.

“Coach Lyons trusts the coaches that he has. He and Coach McBride have coached together that they can read each other’s mind. They have that kind of chemistry.”

During the fall IHSAA Limited Contract Period (twice a week for two hours), 73 players were at workouts while participation was around 65 for recent winter sessions.

“All coaches at New Pal work very well with sharing athletes,” says Zeilinga. “That’s straight from the mentality of Coach (Al) Cooper (athletic director and former head baseball coach).

Zeilinga often works with New Pal outfielders and JV players.

Since varsity and JV teams tend to play on the same night, Zeilinga rarely sees the varsity once the regular season starts.

After each JV game, Zeilinga sends an overview of what his players did well or areas where they need improvement and share that with head coach Shawn Lyons and varsity assistant Landon McBride.

Like McBride, Zeilinga has noticed the head coach’s temperament.

“Coach Lyons doesn’t get real high or real low after a big win or a hard loss,” says Zeilinga. “He’s just a real gentleman of the game.”

Mike, who worked at Eli Lily & Company 35 years before retiring, and wife Susan Zeilinga have two children — Stephanie (a teacher at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis) and Michael (who was the starting center fielder on New Palestine’s 2004 state championship team).

Kevin Hall (New Albany)

Kevin Hall is a 1986 New Albany High School graduate who was a scrappy middle infielder and lead-off hitter for John Buerger, but his association with Bulldogs baseball goes back to before he started school.

Hall, who credits his work ethic for being the youngest of 11, was a batboy for teams featuring older brother David and coached by Stan Sajko in the early 1970’s. Hall still has the tiny pinstriped uniform from those days.

“(Coach Berger) had an attention to detail,” says Hall. “John was very big on pitching and defense. He believed in the bunting game.”

With a few years off here and there, Hall has been on the New Albany baseball coaching staff since 1990. He has been Bulldogs head coach and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chris McIntyre’s top assistant for more than two decades.

“We both have the same philosophy on winning and we’re teaching these kids how to be young men,” says Hall, who leads infielders while also helping with outfielders, hitters and catchers. “When kids get out of school they’re probably not going to be their own boss. They need to learn to take direction.

“We understand that this is the game of failure. If you give us effort, we’ll never get on you about that.”

Hall coaches first base with McIntyre in the third base box.

“Coach McIntyre has a mind like nobody I’ve ever met,” says Hall. “He can process things. He’s analytical. He’s a math teacher. He loves the numbers.”

One day, Hall brought a stop watch to time runners without McIntyre knowing it and — counting in his head — the head coach was only off the actual number by about 1/10th of a second.

“Our program wouldn’t be near where it would be without Chris McIntyre.”

Hall calls baseball “the fairest game ever.”

“Each team gets the same number of outs, same number of opportunities and deals with the same conditions,” says Hall. “There’s no clock. 

“You just have to go play.”

Hall throws a good deal of batting practice to the Bulldogs.

“Our kids get a lot of live arms,” says Hall. “I just use aspirin and ice and go back and do it again the next day.”

When McIntyre was approaching New Albany’s all-time win mark, Hall helped organize a special night for him.

After the celebration, Mac pulled Hall aside and said, “Don’t ever do that again” and then thanked him the next day.

“He’s very humble,” says Hall of McIntyre. “He wants the kids to have that limelight and not him.”

With the loss of the 2020 season because of COVID-19, New Albany had time to upgrade its baseball field while also putting in a new softball diamond next door. 

Kevin, a plant operator at Grant Line Elementary School in New Albany, and wife Melia Hall have a daughter together — eighth grader Anderson (named for Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson). Kevin’s two older daughters are Samantha and Stephanie. Melia’s son is Aidan.

Steve Ford (Lewis Cass)

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Marschand has had Steve Ford on his staff for three-quarters of his tenure leading Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind.

The 2021 season will mark Ford’s 31st with the Kings. He has always led the infield defense and helped with hitting instruction at Cass, which finished as Class 2A state runners-up in 2009 (20-9).

“It’s pretty collaborative in our program,” says Ford, who coaches first base and sits next to Marschand when the coaches are in the dugout. “We get a sense of the style of play we’re going to use and we coach each of the areas based on what we’re trying to do for that season.

“We we like to put pressure on the defense (on offense). You can do that a lot of different ways. If we have plodders (on the base paths), we can bunt them over. If we have rabbits, we can have more stolen bases, double steals and taking of extra bases.”

Kings coaches like players to play to their strengths and learn to do things like hit behind the runner and put the ball on the ground up the middle.

“We want them to be well-versed in the approach they are going to be taking at the plate based on the situation,” says Ford. “We would really like our players to learn the strategies and the options.

“In practice, we put runners in position and they decide how they are going to score the run.

“Once they have a broader knowledge of how to play, they are going to enjoy it more and be more successful.”

A big part of the Cass offensive blueprint is to get accumulate freebies with dirt-ball reads etc.

“Our approach at the plate has to be to hit hittable strikes,” says Ford. “Early in the count we’re not going to hit his pitch. We’re going to hit our pitch.”

A goal in batting practice is for each player to figure out which pitch he hits best.

BP goal – each player to learn to figure out which pitch he hits best

“Hitting a pitcher’s pitch is giving him a freebie,” says Ford. “Hitting our pitch is somewhat of a freebie for us.”

As part of its SAFE-T offensive plan, Cass wants to score the game’s first run.

Going for the long ball is not a priority, especially at home games where it’s 330 feet down the foul lines and 408 to center field.

“There’s a lot of outfield grass and we’re going to try to pepper it rather than try to hit it out of the park,” says Ford.

Kings defenders focus a lot of on momentum changers.

“One of he biggest on defense is the double play,” says Ford. “We work a lot on turns, feeds and throws to first base while trying to help our pitcher.

“At the high school level, pitching can be a huge variable. Defensive positioning os based on the speed of our pitcher. 

“I can’t tell (infielders) every pitch where to align so they have to be cognizant of signals between the pitchers and catcher and know what pitch is coming.”

The Kings also look to prevent opponents from taking the extra base by being in the proper position for cut-offs and double-cuts.

“We’re making sure to be in a good back-up position in case the throw isn’t perfect,” says Ford. “There are a lot of nuances in defense like where the first baseman takes the throw or where the third baseman goes based on the count. At the high school level, the drag bunt is a big strategy.”

Taking nothing for granted, Ford wants his infielders to back up throws from the catcher to the pitcher.

Ford, a 1970 Kokomo Haworth graduate played for for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Keith Slaughter. The 1970 Haworth Huskies were state finalists.

Bill Bright was middle infielder Ford’s coach at Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis).

Steve and wife Julia Ford have been married since 1974 and have two daughters — Amanda (a local farm wife with a son and two daughters) and Melanie (who played four years of basketball at the University of Charleston and is now associate athletic director, senior women’s administrator and NCAA compliance officer at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.). Amanda was a manager and Melanie a player for their father as a basketball coach.

Steve Ford was the girls basketball coach at Cass for 18 seasons, concluding in 2007-08.

Jim Kominkiewicz (Penn)

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Greg Dikos has been head coach at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., for four Class 4A state titles (1994, 1998, 2001 and 2015) and a state runner-up finish (2017). 

Jim Kominiewicz has been there as an assistant for all of them. The 2021 season will be Komo’s 31st on the Kingsmen coaching staff. He has been in education for 38 years — eight in South Bend and 30 in the Penn system.

The current staff has Dikos leading the catcher, Kominkiewicz the infielders, Tom Stanton the pitchers and John Westra the outfielders.

“Greg is one of the best catching coaches in the state,” says Kominkiewicz, noting that Penn has produced its share of college backstops. “Catching is one of the hardest things to do. You’re involved in every play.

“When have pitchers like Skylar Szynski or Ryan Lynch, you better make sure your catcher can catch the ball.”

Kominkiewicz applauds Dikos for his willingness to keep learning and incorporating them into the Kingsmen program.

“Every year we try to do something better,” says Kominkiewicz. “We never stay the same. We try to change things up and keep the kids excited about it. 

“Greg is always going to clinics. He’s the best.”

Kominkiewicz has noticed that many clinic speakers reinforce concepts already being taught by Penn coaches.

“It shows we’re doing things right,” says Kominkiewicz. 

As an infield coach, Komo stresses getting the palm to the baseball and fielding through it. Time is spent on back-handing and picking up short hops.

Kominkiewicz graduated from South Bend John Adams High School in 1972, where he played baseball for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski.

Komo’s first baseball coaching post was at South Bend Washington High School on the staff of IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ric Tomaszewski that also included pitching coach Larry Jackowiak.

“Rick was very intense,” says Kominkiewicz. “He’s a book. We spent a lot of time together. We’d come in on Saturday morning and leave at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. 

“I learned a lot of baseball from those guys. Both of them were great coaches.”

A popular drill during the indoor portion of the preseason was a game called “27 Outs.”

As fielders got closer to making it to the finish, balls off fungo bats got harder.

“That’s why (Tomaszewski’s) team were good,” says Kominkiewicz. “They competed every practice.

“We do the same things at Penn. We compete. We test for sit-ups, push-ups and longest throws. We rate their at-bats (4 points for a line drive, 3 for a hard ground ball etc.). Pitchers try to throw the most strikes — things like that.”

Ground balls and double plays are often timed.

Splitting the team into three groups, the Kingsmen go nine outs per round. Losers do extra running or clean up the field.

“A lot of times our practices are harder than the games,” says Kominkiewicz. “But it’s got to be good practice — not just practice. We want to do it right.

“Our theory is we want to good game of catch, put the ball in play (on offense) and pitchers have to throw strikes. That’s what we stress.”

After Washington, Kominkiewicz went to Adams to coach football, wrestling, baseball and and weightlifting then went back to Washington to coach baseball.

Then came the move to Penn, where he also coached football for two years. He has taught and coaches football and wrestling and served as athletic director at Grissom Middle School.

Jim and wife Beth Kominkiewicz have four children — Ryan (38), Brandon (32), Jill (29) and Matt (21) — and seven grandchildren ages six months to 9 years. 

Ryan, an engineer with Caterpillar, played baseball at Penn. 

Brandon played football at Penn and the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and coaches football at Fort Wayne North Side High School.

Jill is a dental assistant.

Matt played baseball and football at Penn and is on the football team at Saint Francis.

Kevin Fitzgerald (Noblesville)

A 1987 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis where he played two seasons each for former big league pitcher Russ Kemmerer and Richard Bender, Noblesville High School assistant Kevin Fitzgerald served in the U.S. Marine Corps 1989-94 then was an assistant to Duke Burns at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis (2000-02), Dave Mundy at Sheridan (Ind.) High School (2003 and 2004) and head coach at Sheridan (2005 and 2006).

“He was fantastic,” says Fitzgerald of Kemmerer. “There were so many lessons I learned that I didn’t realize I was learning at the time.

“For him, it was really teaching about life and baseball was just the tool. He said baseball is played on a six-inch field — the six inches between your ears. There are no such things as physical errors — they’re all mental. You weren’t prepared.”

Bender, who had big shoes to fill replacing the popular Kemmerer, is credited by Fitzgerald for the opportunity to explore leadership.

Fitzgerald joined Justin Keever’s staff at Noblesville in 2007.

The Millers won a Class 4A state championship in 2014.

Involved in all aspects of the program, Fitzgerald’s primary focuses is on hitters and outfielders. He also coaches third base and runs the Millers’ analytics.

“I take a lot of stuff off Justin’s plate,” says Fitzgerald. “Being an assistant coach at Noblesville High School is a better gig than a lot of head coaching jobs around the state.

“(Assistants are) all given specific areas (by Keever). Having that kind of trust and autonomy is one of the keys to the program

“He’s built an unbelievable culture in the program that was evident from Day 1.

“We have pretty intense discussions as a staff on direction. One of Justin’s gifts is to pull that together. When we walk out the door, it’s one voice. It’s a purely collaborative process.

“Justin Keever, to me, is the quintessential baseball coach. It’s truly a joy to be on his staff.”

Fitzgerald says Millers hitters are approach-driven.

“Two strikes and less than two strikes are the only two counts that matter,” says Fitzgerald. “With less then two strikes we’re looking to do damage.

“We want to grind pitchers up so we’re aggressively patient. We’ll give up a pitcher’s strike early in the count because it’s not one we can do damage with. But we’ll wait for a mistake.

“The best way to hit a breaking ball is to don’t miss the fastball.”

Points of emphasis for outfielders include trying not to let balls hit the ground and throwing the ball to the right place so runners don’t move up.

Fitzgerald keeps a freebies chart that tracks trail-runner advances.

“We look to win the freebie war every game,” says Fitzgerald. “We want to score plus-5 or more.”

Tools like FlightScope and Rapsodo are used to gather analytic metrics that can be studied and adapted to what Noblesville seeks to accomplish in individual player development.

“It’s not about maintenance,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s about being progressive and moving to the next level.”

Fitzgerald’s resume also includes a stint as executive director and coach for the Indiana Mustangs and working at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield, Ind.

Fitzgerald has gained an appreciation for where the Hoosier State stands in the diamond world.

“I don’t think Indiana high school baseball gets enough credit from the public for being as good as it is,” says Fitzgerald. “big-time college programs are always recruiting in Indiana. They know.”

When talking with a coach from a Southeastern Conference school, Fitzgerald asked the difference between players from warm-weather states and places like Indiana.

“He said that northern players are academy players,” says Fitzgerald. “They lack some of that instruct. They don’t play (as much as warm-weather players). 

“That’s our biggest challenge during the off-season (at Noblesville High). We try to be game-like with game speed and tempo indoors. We do anything we can to create instinct.”

Kevin works for Amazon and holds a Business Management degree and is working toward at Quantitative Economics degree from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Brett Windmiller (Fort Wayne Carroll)

A 1991 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Dwenger High School, Brett Windmiller has been on the staff of head coach Dave Ginder at Carroll High School in Allen County since the 2003 season.

The Chargers were Class 3A state runners-up in 1999 and Class 4A state champions in 2010 and 2011.

“(Coach Ginder) understands the things to be good at,” says Windmiller. “His practice organization great and he’s very aware of time.

“If we’re not doing something right, we move on. We’re not going to beat a dead horse.

“As an assistant coach he’s great to work for. You truly feel like you have a say in things. He asks our opinion.”

Windmiller guides the Chargers’ catchers and infielders.

He expects catchers to learn how to run a game (Ginder and Windmiller do not call pitches).

“We teach our kids this is what we want in certain counts,” says Windmiller. “Practice is where we teach. Kids are freed up to play at game time.”

The Chargers talk about the mental game and preparing for each pitch as taught by Brian Cain.

“Players on our 2011 team were masters of the mental game before we emphasized it,” says Windmiller. “They flat out knew they were going to win. 

“It was an amazing group.”

Ginder played at Carroll (Class of 1991) for Chris Adams and at Anderson University for IHSBCA, Anderson U., and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Brandon.

Windmiller played his freshmen year for IHSBCA/Northeast Indiana Baseball Association Hall of Famer Lance Hershberger and sophomore through senior seasons for his father and NEIBA Hall of Famer Larry Windmiller.

Brett played four seasons at Huntington (Ind.) College (now Huntington University) for IHSBCA/NEIBA Hall of Famer Mike Frame, graduating in December 1995.

Before landing at Carroll, Brett was on his father’s Dwenger staff from 1996-2002.

Hershberger, who was an elementary physical education teacher for Windmiller, taught his players about focus and intensity.

“It started with him from the time you started playing catch until you got on the bus and went home,” says Windmiller. “All those things in between mattered. Not that you’re going to dwell on it afterward but this current pitch or at-bat is important.

“If you weren’t ready, you were going to hear about it from Lance.”

Hershberger reminded his players that there was a difference between baseball during the high school and summer seasons. There’s a finality to the high school season while the summer — though very important for development and exposure — is a series of games and unattached tournaments.

Brett did not feel the stigma of being a coach’s son.

“It may have just been the guys I played with,” says Brett. “In hindsight, it may be that dad handled it real well.

“I enjoyed playing for him. There were expectations with the way he wanted you to play. He was good at detecting an issue by watching you swing or throw.”

In his son’s eyes, Larry Windmiller was pretty even-keeled.

“He never got upset,” says Brett. “He was kind of in the middle all the time.

“He really let us play. We had a lot of kids with talent. We played loose and had a lot of success.”

The Dwenger Saints bowed out to Highland in the 1991 South Bend Semistate championship game.

At Huntington, Windmiller learned to play with intensity but not to let a mistake or a perceived bad call fester.

“The intensity of a baseball game is there,” says Windmiller. “It has to be. You learn the moments of the game where that’s appropriate. It cannot drive you into making a second mistake. You can’t carry your at-bat into the field. My red light was strike calls I didn’t agree with.

“Coach Frame was great as far as getting me to try to understand that I’m killing myself when I’m doing that. He helped me lose a little bit of the football mentality.”

Windmiller says he and his fellow coaches have matured over the years and tries set a good example for the players.

“When something bad happens, they are going to look at us,” says Windmiller. “We want to be cheering them on and saying let’s go to the next pitch.”

His first spring at Carroll, Windmiller coached junior varsity players with Mike Klopfenstein.

“JV’s great,” says Windmiller. “There’s no all-conference. There’s no media. It’s just young kids learning how to play baseball the correct way.”

At the JV level, win-loss record is irrelevant. It’s about developing. Between the spring and summer ball and getting in the weight room, a player can make big jumps from one season to the next.

Windmiller is a public address announcer for many Carroll sports, including football, boys basketball, girls basketball and wrestling. He has coached eighth grade football and seventh grade girls basketball in the system.

He is also an NEIBA board member and president of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation, running the Red Carrington League with Richard Brown. 

Brett took over the FWBF post after the passing of NEIBA Hall of Famer Dick Crumback in 2019. 

The NEIBA presents the Dick Crumback Player of the Year annually to an area ballplayer. The honor comes with a $1,000 donation ($500 from the Crumback family and $500 for the FWBF) to the program of the recipient.

“It’s a pretty tight-knit baseball community in Fort Wayne,” says Windmiller, who has also been a Wildcat League coach.

Brett, a sixth grade science teacher at Carroll Middle School, and wife Kara Windmiller (secretary to Chargers athletic director Dan Ginder) live in the Carroll school district and have two daughters — high school sophomore Ryli and seventh grader Hannah.

Brett’s sister Kari played volleyball and basketball at Dwenger.

Rhett Welliever is an assistant baseball coach at Crawfordsville (Ind.) High School. (Susan Ehrlich Photo)
Landon McBride is an assistant baseball coach at New Palestine (Ind.) High School.
Mike Zeilinga is an assistant baseball coach at New Palestine (Ind.) High School.
Kevin (right), with wife Melia, is an assistant baseball coach at New Albany (Ind.) High School.
Steve Ford is an assistant baseball coach at Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Ind.
Jim Kominkiewicz is an assistant baseball coach at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (The Pennant Photo)
Kevin Fitzgerald is an assistant baseball coach at Noblesville (Ind.) High School.
Brett Windmiller is an assistant baseball coach at Carroll High School in Allen County, Ind.

Penn graduate Kavadas carries booming bat for Notre Dame

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Niko Kavadas likes to make noise.

The University of Notre Dame sophomore does it with his baseball bat.

“I’m just trying to make loud contact,” says Kavadas, a 6-foot, 240-pound lefty swinger with a .262 average, 10 home runs, 11 doubles, 35 runs batted in and .869 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) so far in 2019 with the Fighting Irish. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard. I’m trying to hit the ball 100 mph.”

What are the origins of his power?

“It’s always been there, but I didn’t know how to access it,” says Kavadas. “All through high school, I would show some glimpses of power. But, for the most part, I was just gap-to-gap guy.”

After he produced plenty of run-producing gappers at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., that trend continued into his freshman season at Notre Dame.

Then something clicked.

“All of a sudden I just found something in my swing,” says Kavadas, who hit .299 with five homers, five doubles and 20 RBIs in 2018. “The kinetic chain was in sequence and, all of a sudden, the ball started to fly.”

Add muscle and that helps even more.

“Our strength and conditioning programs here are incredible,” says Kavadas. “Coach Kyle (Jean) does an awesome job of getting us ready to play and take our game to the next level.”

In baseball, it’s not always about maxing out and bench pressing 300 pounds.

“We’re trying to stabilize our cores and promoting good, overall health so those fly balls to the warning track found their way over the fence,” says Kavadas.

At ND, Kavadas works on his hitting with both head coach Mik Aoki and assistant Adam Pavkovich.

When he’s going well, Kavadas is typically on his own. But when he struggles and needs to a tweak, he goes to the coaches and taps into their wealth of knowledge.

“Any time I really struggle I go to my dad,” says Niko of Jim Kavadas. “When I was in high school, I went to an instructor up in Sturgis (Mich.) named Mike Marks and he really helped me. My dad went to every single lesson (at Hitters Edge) with me and absorbed all that information. Any time I struggle, he can see something Mike would have said. It’s just like having Mike there.”

On defense, Kavadas has been primarily a third baseman this season. Last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers of the Northwoods League, he played at first base.

“I’m really comfortable over there as well,” says Kavadas, who has committed to play this summer at first base for the Harwich Mariners of the elite Cap Cod Baseball League.

Kavadas saw that the summer collegiate routine is different from the spring season where he typically plays four games a week (mid-week game and three-game weekend series) with practices plus at least three workouts and, of course, classes and study time (he is enrolled in ND’s Mendoza School of Business).

There are many built-in obligations during the school season and players are on their own during the summer collegiate season.

“It’s a lot of baseball,” says Kavadas of the summer. “We play 70-something games in 70-something days. “You have to be able to manage your time, take care of your body and prepare for each game.

“That was a new experience for me, but I think I came out a lot better.”

Kavadas played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and his longtime assistant Jim Kominkiewicz at Penn.

“Me and my brother (C.J.) both have had an incredible experience playing at Penn,” says Kavadas. “We’ve had so much fun with our best friends.”

The Kingsmen won an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in Niko’s sophomore year (2015), lost to the semistate his junior year (2016) and finished as state runners-up his senior year (2017).

Kavadas was a an all-state honoree as a junior. He played for Lids Team Indiana during the summers and the San Francisco Giants scout team in the fall.

He started playing organized baseball at Harris Baseball/Softball in Granger, Ind., until 7. Then some fathers, including his own, started a travel team called the Granger Cubs that played 60 games a summer. One of his teammates was Matt Kominkiewicz.

Jim and Robin Kavadas have four children — Abigail, Niko, C.J. and Tess. C.J. Kavadas is a junior on the Penn High School team.

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Niko Kavadas (12) is a sophomore on the Notre Dame baseball team. He is a power-hitting corner infielder. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas eyes a pitch as a power hitter for the University of the Notre Dame baseball team. The sophomore is a graduate of nearby Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas gets set at third base during a 2019 baseball game for the University of Notre Dame. He has mostly at the hot corner for the Fighting Irish. He anticipates he will be at first base this summer with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod Baseball League. (Notre Dame Photo)

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When Niko Kavadas found something in his swing midway through his freshmen season at the University of Notre Dame, his power increased. The sophomore currently has 10 home runs, 11 doubles and 35 runs batted in for the 2019 Fighting Irish. (Notre Dame Photo)

 

Penn’s Dikos puts program first and piles up hardware

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Everyone knows that the white “P” on those black caps stands for Penn.

But it could just as season stand for another “P” word.

“Bottom line: It’s not a person, it’s the program,” says Penn High School head baseball coach Greg Dikos. “Everybody contributes. You can plug anybody in.”

That’s the way Dikos has operated for three decades on Bittersweet Road in Mishawaka.

The program-first method works.

As the Kingsmen get ready for an IHSAA Class 4A Kokomo Semistate game against Zionsville Saturday, June 10 (following the 1 p.m. 2A game), they are led by a man who has led the program to 702 wins, including 18 sectionals, 10 regionals, three semistates and four state championships (1994, 1998, 2001, 2015) plus 18 Northern Indiana Conference titles in his 30 seasons as head coach (he’s been in the program for 37).

Chasing championships is what they do at Penn.

“Those are definitely our expectations,” says Dikos, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011. “We try to make the kids realize that when they sign up as freshmen.”

Dikos, 60, ticks off the trademarks of the Penn program: “Hard work. Teamwork. Discipline. Commitment.”

While the Kingsmen have numerous NCAA Division I commits in the 2017 lineup, including Niko Kavadas (Notre Dame), Nolan Metcalf (Kansas) and Trevor Waite (Dayton) plus NAIA two-sporter Matt Kominkiewicz (Saint Francis, Ind. for baseball and football), this is not a typical year.

“We have hard-working kids that come in and give it their all, play together,” says Dikos. “Comparatively speaking, with other athletes around the area, we just hold our own because we play as a team.”

Discipline means showing up on time consistently and following Penn’s athletic code of conduct year-round.

Dikos demands discipline in the school building and class room. His players are not allowed to cut class, get tardies or give the teacher a hard time.

“They know the first person the teacher goes to is me,” says Dikos. “If it gets to me, I know that teacher is frustrated. We’ll take care of it right away.”

Penn High School coaches expect their athletes “to be champions on and off the field” and that’s certainly the case in baseball.

Baseball-playing Kingsmen put in a commitment of quality time. Dikos and long-time assistant Jim Kominkiewicz no longer lead five-hour workouts. They’ve learned to get the job done in about 1 1/2. But players are expected to work. Athletes put in countless hours on their own in the fall and winter, working on skills and lifting weights.

The 2016-17 school year was the first for full-time strength and conditioning coach Matt Cates, who puts Penn athletes through sport-specific exercises either during the school day, before or after.

“Our kids have developed immensely,” says Dikos, a health and physical education teacher at PHS. “It’s going to benefit the freshman class this year the most because they’re going to have four years of Cates.”

Players are willing to put in the quality time because of their baseball adoration.

“It’s a difficult sport if you love it. It’s an impossible sport if you don’t love it,” says Dikos. “The kids that make it to their senior year really love it. They have fun doing baseball stuff.

“You just try to built that chemistry and that will lead to the fun.”

While early-season workouts are more regimented, as Penn gets deeper into the postseason, practices at Jordan Automotive Group Field tend to be more relaxed and players are encouraged to enjoy the experience.

Typical of tournament time, Dikos gave his tournament roster the day off Monday so he could work with his younger players. In many years, the Kingsmen have been practicing for the state tournament, the summer travel season and running a youth camp all in the same week.

In addressing players and parents at the beginning of each season Dikos makes one promise: The season will not be perfect.

“We go through the same things that other teams do,” says Dikos. “We have our same problems that other team do. We just try to deal with them as effectively as we can. We try to nip it in the bud.”

Working through those problems present a life lesson.

“You’re not going to get along with your soulmate every single day.,” says Dikos. “You’re going to have problems with you marriage, with your job. These are things you have to work out. These are values I hope are learned going through our program that kids can take with them in college and the rest of their lives.”

Dikos likes the way Paul Holaway puts it.

“We don’t expect perfection; we expect to be exceptionally good,” says Dikos in quoting his senior manager. “You never perfect baseball. It’s always a learning process and change. It’s a series of adjustments every level that you go up

“We (coaches) have that expectation that we’re going to win. Once you build that, the kids go in there expecting that same thing.”

Many Penn baseball alumni were in the crowd to see the ’17 Kingsmen beat Goshen and Elkhart Central (win No. 700 for Dikos) to win the Elkhart Sectional and Lake Central and Andrean to take the LaPorte Regional.

“It really pumped our kids up a lot seeing their ex-teammates,” says Dikos. “I imagine there’s pressure in not letting those guys down, not letting the program down.

“But it’s certainly not emphasized by the coaching staff.”

Besides Kominkiewicz, who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski at South Bend Adams (graduating in 1973) with his quarter century in the program, the staff features Tom Stanton (Penn Class of 2000), John Westra (Sturgis 2003), Elliott Lares (Penn 2014), Brian Lares (Penn 2008) and Collin McNamara (Penn 2014).

Positional coaches are Dikos (catchers), Stanton (pitchers) Kominkiewicz (infielders) and Westra (outfielders). The other help at the junior varsity or freshmen levels.

Trust is big for Dikos, who has come to rely on the opinions of “Komo.”

“He’s one guy you can depend on,” says Dikos of Kominkiewicz. “I know he’s going to be here everyday. He’s going to give it his all.

“One thing he and I have in common is we just want to win. We just try to put our best nine on the field regardless of who it is.”

The current Penn lineup is not the one that took the field at the beginning of the spring.

“It’s something a veteran staff is able to figure out,” says Dikos. “The parents expect their kids to be given a chance. The kids expect to be given a chance — unless it happens to another kid.

“They don’t understand why you stick with a kid for a few games. In reality, you’re giving them the kind of chances you give everybody. You play yourself out of a position. Some parents and players think it should happen faster or they should be given a little more time. “

All the coaching experience really helps.

“We might lose a game along the way trying to figure things out,” says Dikos. “That’s something parents will have a hard time getting a grip on.

“We’re thinking about making a state tournament run.”

Even in a school the size of Penn, there are multi-sport athletes. Dikos just doesn’t see as many as a he once did.

“It beginning to become quite the rarity but not because of (the coaching staff),” says Dikos. “We encourage multi-sport athletes.”

There are five of those on the 2017 baseball tournament roster

“In the past, it was a lot more,” says Dikos. But kids are beginning to specialize.”

Looking to children of Greg and Sally Dikos, sons Greg Jr. and Garrick were three-sport athletes through junior year at Penn and two-sport athletes as seniors. Daughter Sarah played multiple sports in junior high and found her talents led her to just volleyball in high school.

Dikos keeps the lines of communication open with Penn’s other head coaches.

“The only thing we ask is that the athletes tell us what’s going on and are respectful of everybody,” says Dikos. “We don’t want anybody short-changed. If the kids really want it, it’s workable.”

Dikos is a 1975 Swartz Creek (Mich.) High School and 1979 Ball State University graduate who played briefly in the Atlanta Braves organization and has been giving back to the game ever since.

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Greg Dikos (center) and long-time assistants Jim Kominkiewicz (left) and Tom Stanton (right) have helped Penn High School into the 2017 Class 4A Kokomo Semistate. Dikos is in his 30th season as head baseball coach and has 702 win and four state titles on his resume. (Steve Krah Photo)