Culture is something every team in every sport aims to build within a program.
This is what the Appalachian State baseball team is looking to create with drastic changes coming to their coaching staff this offseason.
Coming off a less than stellar 18-36 season last year under previous head coach Billy Jones, who went 68-94 in his three seasons at App, athletic director Doug Gillin felt it was time for a change.
“We had over 100 applications for this position from all levels of baseball that there is,” athletic director Doug Gillin referred to about the application process. “The committee did an outstanding job of really getting us down to a place where we could really zero in on who was the right fit for the job.”
Conducting a nationwide search over the summer, App State found their man. On July 14, Kermit Smith was named the new head coach of Mountaineers baseball.
Spending his last seven seasons at Lander University, Smith was the winningest coach in the program’s history with a 244-134 record which was good enough to take the Bearcats to four Peach Belt Conference tournaments as well as three NCAA Tournaments in his last five years with the program.
Smith is now looking to bring that winning mentality along with him to App State in hopes to garner the same amount of success he has had in the past.
“I’m going to do it the same way that I’ve done it for the past 16 years,” Smith said. “My goal as a baseball program is to win a national championship and what we do on a daily basis is we’ll work towards that in every area of the student-athlete’s life and every area of the coaching staff’s life and every area of the program’s life.”
Complementing Smith on staff includes Justin Aspegren, Britt Johnson and Erik Lunde.
Aspegren was the only coach retained from last year, in which he served as a pitching coach for the Mountaineers in his first season with the team.
He was tasked with guiding one of the nation’s youngest starting rotations. Fifty-two of Appalachians 54 games were started by a true freshman during the 2016 season.
“I look to continue to bring the information and the details that I’ve learned as both a player and a coach and bring them out here,” Aspegren said. “The biggest thing that we can do as a coaching staff is blend everything that we know together.”
Looking to help blend everything together is assistant coach Britt Johnson.
Johnson spent the last six years coaching with Kermit Smith at Lander starting off as a volunteer coach then being promoted to assistant coach as well as recruiting coordinator in his last three years with the program. He spent time coaching infielders as well as assisting with hitters, also while spending time as the team’s third-base coach.
“He’s [Smith] the kind of guy that you work for and he doesn’t feel like your boss,” Johnson said. “You can’t work for a better person.”
With the majority of Smith’s staff, apart with Aspegren, having all been with each other for multiple years, the chemistry is already established and growing in the program.
Rounding off the coach’s is volunteer assistant coach Erik Lunde.
Lunde played baseball at Lander under coach Smith for four years earning first-team all-conference, all-regional and all-American honors. He then went on to play minor league ball for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization the past two years appearing in 117 games with a batting average of .247.
With Lunde’s experience recently coming out of the Minor Leagues, he is looking to help shape a young up-and-coming program to the potential that they have.
“I’ve seen a lot of baseball,” Lunde said. “Being able to relate to them in terms of being younger, it really helps, I can capture their attention a little bit more just based on being a similar age and seeing a lot more baseball than they have.”
With the young pitching staff now all a year older, the Mountaineers baseball team is looking to pick up on Smith’s winning attitude and vastly improve their season.
This season has a lot of promise, but first, the Mountaineers will have to get through defending NCAA Champions and conference foe Coastal Carolina if they want to win their conference and advance further with the help of a new staff.
Story By: Taylor Story, Sports Reporter