New McPherson High head baseball coach Heath Gerstner is no stranger to his new surroundings.
Gerstner, who is a 2003 graduate of Nickerson High School and has family in nearby Hutchinson, was approved Monday night by the USD 418 school board as the new Bullpup coach. He replaces interim coach Grant Myers, who had served in that capacity after Steve Williams resigned after two games into the 2014 season.
Gerstner comes to MHS after three years as head coach at Class 6A Junction City. Success came quickly for him there, as he produced a state-qualifying team this season. The Bluejays lost to No. 1 seed Manhattan 1-0 in the first round.
"We (Gerstner and his fiancee Shelley Burgess, who is from Lyons) are excited to live in McPherson and we believe it will be a great community to raise a family," Gerstner said. "The jump from 6A to 4A will be an adjustment. I believe 4A D-1 baseball is very solid in Kansas and our first goal will be to develop pitching to allow us to be competitive in the postseason. Having the chance to compete in the Centennial League the past four years has been a bear. For example, the Centennial League that Junction City plays in qualified six teams to a state tournament this spring. We had no off nights, so to speak. I look forward to getting to know the league opponents in the AVCTL and through conversations believe McPherson can be very competitive in the very near future."
During his short time at Junction City, he produced nine players who signed collegiately.
Gerstner played for the legendary Rich Krol at Nickerson High School and was part of the Panthers’ 2002 state championship team.
"When I think of what I took from Rich Krol, I think of his unwavering focus on fundamentals," Gerstner said. "He loved baseball and really worked on his teams playing great defense and pitching well all the time. That allowed us to compete every day."
He also played at Hutchinson Community College with current Detroit Tiger Andy Dirks before graduating from Kansas State. He earned a Bachelors degree in agriculture, a Masters in curriculum and instruction and a graduate teaching certificate in biology, which is what he’ll teach at MHS.
Gerstner has a definite plan of how his McPherson team will approach its opponents.
"My goal for the McPherson baseball team is get us to a level to consistently compete for championships and help get more get kids to the next level,” he said. I want the kids to have an opportunity to play in regional championships and hopefully state tournaments. I want a team that knows they can compete on any day and most importantly has a desire to get 1 percent better every day.
"My style of play is very aggressive. I want our teams to be aggressive on the mound, the plate and on the bases. I believe that allows kids to have fun and puts extra pressure on the opponent. I want us to be fundamentally sound and respect the game. I believe baseball is 90 percent mental, but in most programs is worked on 10 percent of the time. I plan to really work on the mental side of things and relate baseball back to the game of life.”
Gerstner already is familiar with his new playing home.
"The facilities were a pleasant surprise," he said. "I am very impressed with Grant Complex and believe that is not only an asset to the baseball program, but the community. I was excited to hear there are places for kids to develop indoors during the offseason as well."
Gerstner is impressed with the attitude of McPherson toward athletics in general.
"I have always followed McPherson High from a distance and been impressed with the support the community provides," he said. "They have high expectations for athletics and that is extremely appealing. I have a great appreciation for programs who model excellence and I believe McPherson is one of those programs in Kansas. For example, last weekend I was coaching a team in McPherson for a showcase tournament and could not believe the fan section for the McPherson team. It was really a great thing to see."
Gerstner has extensive coaching experience. He has been the American Legion coach for Junction City and while he was at Kansas State, he served as an assistant football coach at Rock Creek. He also worked as a volunteer assistant football coach at Kansas State, learning his craft under then-offensive coordinator James Franklin, now the head coach at Penn State.
He has been an umpire, is a member of the American Coaches Association as well as the Kansas National Education Association.
Gerstner will be taking over a McPherson team that was 7-14 last season, but loses only three seniors.