Tag Archives: Mark Pieper

Mercer makes relationships, mental skills priority for Wright State Baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Embracing the importance of personal relationships and the process, Indiana native Jeff Mercer continues to enjoy baseball accomplishment in Ohio.

Mercer, a 2004 Franklin County High School graduate, is in his second season as head coach at NCAA Division I Wright State University in Dayton.

After leading WSU to a 38-21 mark in 2017, Mercer had the Raiders at 29-13 heading into a May 4-6 Horizon League series against the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Mercer served as an assistant to Rich Maloney at the University of Michigan (2011), Matt Myers at Western Kentucky University (2012-13) and Greg Lovelady at Wright State (2014-16) before taking over the reigns of the RaiderGang when Lovelady took the heading coaching job at the University of Central Florida.

As a power-hitting first baseman, Mercer played two seasons at the University of Dayton (2005, 2007) for head coach Tony Vittorio then two at Wright State (2008-09) for head coach Rob Cooper.

While playing for WSU, Mercer was a two-time all-Horizon League first-team selection at first base. In 2009, he was HL Player of the Year and a Collegiate Baseball Newspaper third-team All-American as he hit .357 with 26 doubles and 74 runs batted in.

As a Franklin Community Grizzly Cub, he learned from three coaches — Mark Pieper, father Jeff Mercer and Brian Luse.

Mercer, 32, credits Pieper for instilling an appreciation for relationships.

“That’s one thing I’ve tried to make a core value and staple of my coaching staff,” says Mercer, who counts Nate Metzger, Matt Talarico, Alex Sogard, mental skills development coordinator Diamyn Hall, director of operations Denton Sagerman and volunteer Jacob Burk among his Wright State assistants. “We have to have personal relationships with our players.

“If you want to bring out the best in them — physically, emotionally, academically and all those things — the core of that is the relationship where you can help them build and grow.”

Mercer, who earned an organizational leadership degree from Wright State in 2009, does not buy into the generation gap excuse.

“I am young — one of the younger (D-I) head coaches in the country,” says Mercer. “I take it a little bit personally when people talk about ‘kids these days.’ You take the time to develop a relationship, the generation of the kid you’re dealing with is no different.

“They need to know that you care. They need to know you’re invested.”

This trust allows Mercer and his staff to drive the Raiders.

“We’re hard on players,” says Mercer. “We push them. We have really high expectation levels.

“But if they knew you have their best interests at heart then they have no problem with that kind of tough love.”

The elder Jeff Mercer, who helped start the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization and is now assistant superintendent of Franklin Community Schools, passed along his affinity for structure and discipline to his son.

“Everything was always very methodical,” says Mercer. “There was always an organizational plan. I took from that the confidence you have in preparation.

“We recruit a very confident kind of kid. First and foremost that comes from him. There’s only so much confidence we can give somebody. The confidence that comes from preparation can only be earned. It can’t be bought. You can’t pay for it.

“It just comes with time. It made me more confident as a player and as a coach knowing how much time and work we put into it.”

Mercer notes that Wright State has enjoyed much success against highly-ranked opponents and in hostile environments.

“Guys are confident because they know they are prepared to play at that level,” says Mercer, whose team earned two 2018 road wins against No. 20 Louisiana and one triumph against vote-getter Sam Houston State. The Raiders play at No. 29 Louisville Tuesday, May 8.

Mercer says Luse blend qualities from Pieper and his father.

“We played loose and free for him,” says Mercer. “But he also had a feel for the structure and discipline of it. Consequently, we had a lot of success. We were a very good team.

“You learn something from everybody you come in contact with and I certainly learned a lot during my high school time.”

Vittorio, who grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Southport High School in 1984, brought toughness and discipline to his coaching.

“I knew that he cared,” says Mercer, who was a walk-on for the Flyers. “The relationship that I have with him now is really nice. He’s around a lot.”

While Mercer was at Dayton, another coach had a lasting impact on him.

“My relationship with hitting coach Cory Allen really shaped the way I view hitting from a mechanical aspect that I’ve carried forth to this day,” says Mercer. “It was the first time that anyone had discussed biomechanics, centrifugal force and different movements.

“It was an eye-opening experience and it drove me to be a much better player. I wasn’t a very talented player. Understanding a lot of those basics allowed me to have an advantage.”

After transferring to Wright State he formed a personal relationship with Cooper.

“At that point, there was nobody better in my career at making us all feel valued,” says Mercer. “I learned so much about that from him.

“He was the first person that introduced me to the mental game aspect.”

In the years since he played, Mercer has seen the field of mental skills training take off.

“It’s become an industry in and of itself,” says Mercer. “At the time, there was nobody talking about ‘don’t worry about the outcome, it’s the quality of the at-bat. It’s the process over the outcome.’ At the time it was very cutting edge and it was new information for me.

“I was a much better baseball player at Wright State than I was at Dayton

“It was directly attributed to the mental game and understanding that I couldn’t just play with reckless abandon when it came to my emotions. Physically, I could play very hard. But emotionally, there has to be some constraint.”

One of the keys is to know where place the emphasis.

“If I go through the process the right way and I work on things I’m supposed to work on and invest in things I’m supposed to invest in and I have the at-bat I’m supposed to have and putting a good swing on a good pitch, whatever happens from there is completely out of my hands,” says Mercer. “Once I did that I became a much better player.”

Mercer recruits plenty of football and wrestling athletes.

“Their mentality is I can work harder and harder,” says Mercer. “That’s not always effective in baseball.”

In his first season as head coach, he found the mental game to be a bit lacking and he thinks he knows the reason.

“When it comes from the head coach it can become a bit stale because I’m always talking and communicating with players,” says Mercer. “My voice is always heard.

“I like having a big coaching staff and having them deal with each player individually because it keeps things fresh. We need to have multi-faceted relationships.”

Then opportunity knocked.

Hall, who is from nearby Centerville, Ohio, had just ended his collegiate playing career and was looking to find his way in the mental skills field.

The decision was made to bring him on-board as the very first full-time mental skills coordinator in D-I baseball.

“We had a mutual need,” says Mercer of Hall. “He needed a place to begin his career. We needed someone who was a fresh face and had an ability to communicate with young people in an electric way, in an impassioned way. He has a magnetic personality.

“It’s been a beautiful union.”

Hall meets with players as a group and one-on-one, providing his knowledge and helping athletes reach their potential.

“We’re providing the players with the resources to be the best they can,” says Mercer. “It’s really about knowing yourself and what you need to be successful.”

Jeff and is one four boys born to Jeff and Pam Mercer. His mother teaches math at Whiteland Community High School.

Stephanie Mercer, Jeff’s wife, teaches sixth grade at Ankeney Middle School. The former Ohio Northern University athlete is also an assistant boys volleyball coach at Beavercreek (Ohio) High School.

Jeff and Stephanie are expecting their first child — a boy — in the fall.

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Jeff Mercer, a 2004 Franklin Community High School graduate, is in his second season as head baseball coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. At 32, he is one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA Division I baseball. (Wright State Photo)

 

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After landing in Indiana, Kroll quickly makes his baseball mark at Ben Davis, Roncalli

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Kroll first made a baseball name for himself in Iowa.

He then coached high schoolers and collegians in Arizona.

An invitation from a friend brought him to Indiana and he worked his way up to high school varsity head coach — first at Ben Davis and then at Roncalli. The 2018 season will mark his fourth leading the Rebels.

Kroll played at Burlington (Iowa) High School and graduated in 1998 before going to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to join the diamond program at NCAA Division III Coe College.

Dan Reid, an Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, was coach of the Burlington Grayhounds.

“He was really fun guy to be around,” says Kroll of Reid. “He was a really good in-game manager and really cared about his players.”

When Kroll arrived on campus, Steve Cook was near the beginning of his days leading the Coe Kohawks.

“He was first person I would credit with teaching in-depth about the game,” says Kroll of Cook. “He was a very knowledgeable guy and a really good teacher of the game.”

By this time, a teenage Kroll already knew he wanted to go into coaching and soaked up as much baseball information as he could.

Since the college season was in the spring and Iowa plays its high school in the summer, Kroll was able to be an assistant for two seasons at Notre Dame High School in Burlington and then one as freshmen coach at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids.

Right after college, Kroll moved to Arizona and took his first head coaching position for one season at Parker High School. He also served three seasons with the Havasu Heat of the summer collegiate Pacific Southwest Baseball League.

With a buddy’s girlfriend studying at the University of Indianapolis, Kroll was asked to move to Indy and began fresh in an unfamiliar baseball community.

“I knew after awhile I wanted to get back to the Midwest,” says Kroll. “When I got to Indianapolis I really had to start over. I really didn’t know anybody.”

Kroll got his foot in the door by coaching eighth graders at the Lynhurst 7th & 8th Grade Center in the Ben Davis school district.

After one season with middle schoolers, he became a junior varsity coach on Brian Hardman’s Ben Davis High staff in 2007. Knowing he would be leaving, Hardman began teaching Kroll the ropes.

Kroll was head coach at Ben Davis from 2008-14, helping the Giants to an IHSAA Class 4A Perry Meridian Sectional championship in his final season on the West Side.

“That’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” says Kroll. “I was able to work my way up on my own. Things happened quickly.”

Kroll and his family (Aaron and wife Brooke have two children — Griffin, 8, and Kamryn, 6) live on the South Side and he applied for the Roncalli job when it came open a few times.

“It was really just a timing thing,” says Kroll, who led the Rebels to a 4A Pike Sectional, Decatur Central Regional, Plainfield Semistate and state championship titles in his second season of 2016 and at Roncalli Sectional crown in 2017. “I wanted to get to a top-end program. The leadership at the school is just tremendous. I’ve been rawly fortunate to work with some great people.”

Kroll, who still teaches Algebra at the Ben Davis Ninth Grade Center, is grateful to folks like Roncalli principal Chuck Weisenbach, former athletic director Dave Toner and current Rebels AD David Lauck for their support at the interparochial archdiocesan Catholic high school.

“I owe a lot to those guys for the success in our program,” says Kroll.

What does the coach believe he brings to Roncalli baseball?

stability

“Stability and overall toughness as a program,” says Kroll. “We’ve put together the most difficult schedule we could to challenge our kids. That’s critical. It’s a big part of why we won the state championship in ’16.

“We want to be challenged every time we take the field.”

Besides Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series in the two-year-old Circle City Conference (which also includes Chatard, Brebeuf, Guerin Catholic and Heritage Christian), the Rebels also meet Lawrence Central, Center Grove, Indianapolis Cathedral and Carmel, play in the Super Prep Tournament at Louisville Ballard and then against top-notch competition from Illinois, Michigan and Ohio in the Midwest Select Invitational at Grand Park in Westfield as well as the Marion County Tournament.

“It’s very competitive each time out,” says Kroll.

During his time at Roncalli, he has sent a number of players on the college baseball, including Michael McAvene (University of Louisville), Pauly Milto (Indiana University), Cody Smith (Danville Area Community College), Tyler Lucas and Christian Beard (University of Indianapolis), Caleb Matthews (University of South Carolina Upstate) and Drew Naumovich (Franklin College). Will Harris went to DePauw University to play football.

Current Rebels who have committed to college baseball program include Nick Schnell (Louisville) and Colten Panaranto (Michigan State University) and there are likely to be others.

Kroll’s assistants for 2018 include Mark Pieper, Sam Konkel and Jay Hundley with the varsity, James Thorpe and Ryan Parrott with the junior varsity and Ron Wilson and John Mullin with the freshmen.

Roncalli plays home games on-campus at La Pinta Field.

With the help of the athletic administration, the facility has seen recent significant upgrades. Among them are a new clubhouse, drainage system, mound and plate areas and fencing with blue slats. There is new paint on the dugouts and press box and the outfield fence now sports several banners.

Roncalli baseball has made three State Finals appearances (1982, 2012, 2016) and won 13 sectionals (1976, 1979, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998 in 3A, 1999 in 3A, 2002 in 3A, 2004 in 3A, 2012 in 4A, 2016 in 4A, 2017 in 4A), eight regionals (1979, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1999, 2012, 2016) and three semistates (1982, 2012, 2016) plus conference and other honors.

“We think it’s really important to have the best field we possibly can and to give our kids the best experience possible,” says Kroll. “It’s really important in building and sustaining a successful program.”

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Aaron Kroll helped lead Roncalli to an IHSAA Class 4A state baseball championship in his second season leading the Rebels in 2016. (Victory Views Photo)

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After seven seasons as head coach at Ben Davis High School, Aaron Kroll was hired as head baseball coach at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis prior to the 2015 season. (The South Side Voice Photo)