Mercy on the Move, Part Two

Mercy on the Move, Part Two

(Cover photo L to R: Mercy head softball coach Greg Meiners, athletic director Mark Evans, head basketball coach Keith Baisch. Credit: Bill Brymer)

Check out Part One of “Mercy on the Move” here.

By Ashli McLean

For Mercy Academy, everything is family. They win together, they lose together. Mercy head softball coach Keith Baisch described it as, “Once you’re here, Mercy becomes part of your family.” Athletic Director Mark Evans credited Charlie Just, former Mercy basketball coach who went on to coach at Bellarmine and Spalding, with changing the culture of Mercy athletics to be able to compete. Evans himself worked basketball camps for Charlie Just when he was at Mercy. “You just kind of get the fire, and you love the place,” Evans said.

As athletic director, Evans runs a tight ship and expects 110% commitment from his coaches and players. His leadership style has worked in favor for this school whose softball and girls’ basketball teams won the 6th Region title and saw success in their respective state tournaments this past year.

Here’s what it takes to establish and maintain a winning athletics program, from the words of the athletic director and coaches…

On strategic decision making to prepare Mercy’s teams for success

Athletic Director Mark Evans:

“First of all, we have to have kids come to the school.”

Evans described athletics as playing a major role on why kids come to Mercy. It’s a well-rounded effort from Mercy’s advancement team initiating discussions with kids and parents in grade school to Mercy hosting camps.

(Credit: Bill Brymer)

(Credit: Bill Brymer)

“Past that, you need to surround yourself with great people and people who have the same vision that you have… It’s not about me. It really isn’t. It’s about having great people who I admire and think a lot of around me coaching kids that I know they’re getting the best.”

Evans met Mercy head softball coach Greg Meiners even before Meiners’ daughters attended the school; Meiners would come around and watch Mercy’s athletic events. On head basketball coach Keith Baisch, Evans called him his best friend and son after the two have built a 17+ year relationship. Evans takes pride in his coaches scheduling the toughest schedules possible for their teams. “I would rather lose and get better. You learn a lot when you have to battle rather than just rolling over teams…Put yourself in a position where you have to battle, and that builds character, toughness.”

Evans works hard, strategically, to make sure Mercy athletics is a coach-friendly place. “If you want great coaches who put their heart and soul into it,” he said, “they sure don’t need to be beat up. In today’s world you can get beat up.”

Adamant, Evans appreciates other authentic relationships in his circle. “I don’t want ‘Yes’ people around me… We want people who are loyal. Loyalty is number one.” He and Mercy President Michael Johnson maintain a very close relationship. Mercy President Amy Elstone even transferred from a small, Christian school to Mercy to play for Evans in his coaching days. “That’s the kind of support it takes in order for me to do my best job,” he said. Other notable people who help Evans navigate Mercy Athletics is Angie Laemmle (assistant) and Tracy Edgerton (facilities). For Evans, the focus must always be remaining close and working together.

On standout players

Head girls’ basketball coach Keith Baisch:

“For me, it had to be two of my seniors. [First is] Malerie Martin, who is going to be attending Lindsey Wilson College. She was our leading scorer. She’s a great ball player, probably could’ve played at a higher level if she didn’t get hurt the last game of her junior year. But she responded well, came back her senior year and had a heck of a senior year for us. She’s a special kid. She’s a kid who needed Mercy as much as we needed her. As a kid, I think this place has really changed her life for the better. I think she’s looking at a good future ahead of her.”

(Credit: Bill Brymer)

(Credit: Bill Brymer)

Martin finished the season as Mercy’s leading scorer with 13.5 points per game, including 1.8 three-pointers per game. She also led in rebounding with 6.2 boards per game.

Baisch’s other pick is Hannah Bewley. As the team’s second-leading scorer, Bewley averaged 12.0 points per game, including 1.4 three-pointers per game. She grabbed 4.4 rebounds per game.

“Hannah was another one of our guards who just played outstanding there at the end. She stepped up the end of her junior year when Malerie got hurt in that regional final game. She stepped up and had something like 27 points to carry the team. This year, we were lucky enough to have them both for the entire year. Those two really pulled it together for us to win the region and ultimately make it to state. Hannah will play at Bellarmine beginning this fall.”

Head softball coach Greg Meiners:

“For me, it’s pretty easy. Leigh Ellen Thomas is our pitcher who is going to Tennessee Tech. She’s a pretty quiet lady. She confident, but she’s very humble.” Thomas threw 207 strikeouts in the regular season.

Meiners talked about him and Thomas establishing a trusting relationship and a good understanding between each other in the last few weeks of the season. “She has a whole lot to do of why we made it to the state tournament.”

Meiners also highlighted Jordan Vorbrink, who will be attending the University of Louisville. “She’s a great leader for our team, not only on the field but in the huddle and at the practice field.” Vorbrink finished the regular season with 32 runs and 29 RBIs.

Meiners shared about the coaching changes in the middle of the year being hardest on her. “But I will really tell you, what I respect about her, she showed me her character and her leadership, [and] that’s going to help her in life… She was really good in a positive way toward getting the team going and knowing what the team needed, and being right there for it.”

On coaching philosophy

Head girls’ basketball coach Keith Baisch:

“100 percent all the time,” Baisch said. “Give us everything you have. If you go hard and work hard, the winning is going to take care of itself.”

Mercy’s schedule is arguably one of the toughest in the state each year, so winning every game is not a given. For Baisch, all he asks of his athletes is to compete and fight, but to also show compassion. “Be strong competitors on the court; be young ladies off the court,” he said. “If a kid takes a charge, we better see the other four players on the court picking her up.”

Baisch’s philosophy also duly recognizes that his athletes are still kids. A few times a year, he and the team gets away to simply have a good time without talking about basketball.

Head softball coach Greg Meiners:

(Credit: Bill Brymer)

(Credit: Bill Brymer)

For Meiners, reciprocal respect is his philosophy. “Be willing to do anything for your kids,” he said. Preparation is of the utmost importance to him. He comes prepared, so he expects his athletes to be prepared as well. It’s all about valuing each other’s time. “I want the kids to show up with joy, glad to be there, first and foremost. Attitude is everything, and they need to have pride that they’re representing their school. This is a short window of time for them. It’s going to be over within a matter of no time, and you want them to have great memories from what they’re doing here.”

Meiners gave former Mercy head softball coach Jon Pont credit for allowing and trusting the girls to lead themselves.

Baisch added to Meiners’ statement, “We want to do our best to be the best coaches they’ve ever had. We want to be the one to drive them, push them… and we want this to be a very special four years for them that they remember for the rest of their life.”

On outlook for next season

Head girls’ basketball coach Keith Baisch:

“It’s always the same thing. Our ultimate goal is to win state.” This upcoming season, in particular, Baisch said he has a very competitive group filled with players who are solid at every position, freshmen through seniors. “So every day in practice they have to compete. If they don’t compete, they’re not going to get to play. It’s going to be a challenge…for our coaching staff to pick who’s going to be out there on the floor.”

Practice for next season is comprised of high-level competition, players pushing each other, but players also cheering for each other.

Head softball coach Greg Meiners:

“I’m full of energy about next year. Our goal is to win the state championship. To me, it should never be less. Nobody’s going to give you anything.”

Although Meiners mentioned he is not excited about losing two of his seniors and foremost hitters, the game plan for next season is to work hard now. He is especially excited to bring back players who really started producing down the stretch at the end of last season. The competition for Mercy’s softball team will undoubtedly be tough.

“That’s exactly what we’re looking forward to,” he said.