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Kusler at home as leader of Smittys program

Aberdeen Smittys coach Brandon Kusler, front right, walks in front of the team’s dugout before the start of a game against Watertown earlier this season at Fossum Field. Photo by John Davis taken 5/5/2022

Brandon Kusler is right at home at Fossum Field. 

The former Aberdeen Smittys player and recent Northern State alum is the new head coach of the Smittys American Legion baseball program, taking over at the senior Legion level after three years of coaching at the lower levels of the Smittys program.

Which means Kusler has logged thousands of innings at Fossum, and there’s not much he hasn’t done. He’s been on both sides of batting practice; both ends of fielding drills and fly balls; victim of a bad bounce and recipient of a lucky one.

“It’s been going really well so far,” Kusler said. “I think everything helps in terms of me playing in the program and now me coaching in the program for the fourth year now. I’m familiar with how things work here.”

Familiar might be, if possible, an understatement. Kusler began coaching in the organization in 2019 with the U13 team, and moved up each subsequent season. That level of familiarity, both with the organization and with the roster helped make this year’s transition to the Legion level as seamless as possible.

“I’ve worked at every level,” Kusler said. “It’s nice having the same group of kids. I’m familiar with their abilities.”

It doesn’t hurt that the core of that group is no stranger to success. Kusler helped guide the U13 group to a state title in 2019 and a runner-up finish at U14 the following year. Last season, the Junior Legion squad notched a top-3 finish, and Kusler doesn’t expect the well of success to dry up this summer.

“They’re familiar with success and what we need to do to win games,” he said. “That’s carried over into this year.”

Kusler, a multi-sport standout at Aberdeen Central, said the urge to get into coaching came to him while he was still in high school.

“I just remember coach (Brent) Norberg at Aberdeen Central,” Kusler said. “He was a big influence for me. My senior year of basketball, I was just getting more and more familiar with what it takes to be a coach and all the different aspects that go into developing players.”

Aberdeen Smittys coach Brandon Kusler, center, huddles with his players between innings during a game against Lake Norden earlier this season at Fossum Field. Photo by John Davis taken 5/8/2022

It also didn’t hurt to have a coaching pioneer both on speed dial and at most family gatherings. Kusler’s older sister Brianna became the first woman in South Dakota to coach boys basketball at the Class AA level.

“I ask her for advice all the time,” Brandon Kusler said. “When I was considering taking the job for Smittys, I definitely had some conversations with her about it. I was having some second thoughts, and she helped me figure out what was best for me.”

Kusler said he intends to pull the thread on coaching as far as it will take him. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in May, he will return to Northern in the fall as a graduate assistant coach for the Wolves.

In the meantime, his attention is turned fully toward the Smittys, hoping he can help the program turn into a state championship contender.

“We want to win a ton of games and win state tournaments at every level, but the primary goal is at the Legion level,” he said. “That’s the page we’re trying to turn to. The past five years the Legion team has been underwhelming. We’re just trying to get back to that level.”

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