Big isn’t always better and might doesn’t always make right. Through soccer and his studies in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Robbie Mertz of Upper St. Clair solidified those tenets regarding excellence on the pitch and in public policy.
“Competition brings out the best,” he said. “I believe that 100 percent.”
Despite his diminutive stature – he stands just 5-feet, 6-inches tall and weighs a mere 150 pounds – the rising senior was the Wolverines’ MVP, along with Jack Hallahan. He also gained All-Big Ten Conference second-team honors and United Soccer Coaches All-Midwest Region recognition. He was the lone starter of all 20 matches and logged a team-leading 1,755 minutes played as the Wolverines posted a 12-6-2 record and claimed their first regular-season Big Ten championship. Additionally, he garnered All-America honors from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
“All-America is quite an honor but it has nothing to do with on-field performance but rather consistency,” said the son of Rob and Kelly Mertz. “I may not be the most athletic-looking and physically, I may not jump the highest or run the fastest, but my technical abilities are one of my strengths and that enables me to be more proficient.”
Throughout his soccer career, Mertz has had to contend with the naysayers. Yet, he somehow won two straight PIAA state championships while competing for Upper St. Clair High School in 2012 and 2013. He earned Gatorade Player of the Year laurels in Pennsylvania in 2014 and 2015. He also gained Regional as well as National All-America accolades from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
“There will always be expectations other people have for you. They can be good. They can be bad,” Mertz began. “Coming from this area, people did not expect a ton out of me. It was not clear how well I would do from that standpoint and I fought through a lot of individual adversity and other’s people’s perceptions. I wasn’t highly recruited, so I was constantly proving myself.”
At Michigan, Mertz is also proving himself academically. He maintains a 3.64 GPA while competing at the NCAA Division I level. He earned All-Big 10 academic honors as well as the Bates/Deskins Award for athletic and academic excellence.
Additionally, he was selected for Michigan’s Global Immersion Course. The three-credit course took him to China where he studied corporate business strategies. He spent four days in Beijing, six days in Shanghai and several more days in Shenzhen. He also spent a week in Thailand and visited Vietnam.
Among the highlights were viewing, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, traveling by high-speed train, shopping at the markets, and touring the Shanghai Central Tower, which is the second-tallest building in the world at 2,073 feet.
“We heard amazing stories, especially regarding censorship,” Mertz said when he and his classmates visited the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. “It was interesting to see that because we don’t experience that here,” he said of the United States.
Of the train, he added, “it was really cool. It went 250 miles per hour.”
Mertz continued, awed over the skyscrapers. He noted the sixth-tallest building in the world is also located in Shanghai.
“Even that one looked small,” he said in comparison to the Central Tower.
“It was interesting to see how large the city is, especially when compared to New York City. It’s absolutely massive. Particularly when you look out from atop the building, the city is endless. And it is remarkable how fast it has developed into one of the most technologically-advanced cities in the world.”
Obviously, however, a trip to the Great Wall climaxed the journey for Mertz.
“The Great Wall was incredible, especially from a human achievement standpoint. You just can’t imagine how they got all those materials up there so long ago,” Mertz stated.
“A group of us even ran up a portion of the wall. It was extremely steep and in some parts we almost had to use our hands to climb to get to the top. It definitely was a nice view from up there.”
The trip to China and his studies in the country also gave Mertz a different view of the world and his own homeland.
During his studies, he learned about the various companies in China and how they operate, develop strategies and design technologies. Mertz paid particular attention to a financial-tech company and what it did regarding applications that allowed people to apply for short-term loans and targeted consumers with “not so fantastic” to “somewhere in between” credit ratings.
“It correlated with a recent course I took that consumed a lot of data, big data, to predict outcomes and how they collected data points such as who can apply for loans and how based on certain factors they say yes or no whether or not to invest. We were able to see everything we were learning in class applied at the highest level. I think it was beneficial to everybody who participated in the program,” Mertz added.
In addition to visiting and working with companies in China, Mertz said the course culminated in presentations and proposals, designed by the group, regarding investments and why the companies should invest in one another and vice versa.
“My vision for the trip was to have both cultural and business experiences that will help me going forward,” he said. “Things I learned doing business with people with different backgrounds and life skills. Even though is has not hit me right away, exactly how they will help me, this experience will help my ability to work with people and understand where they are coming from.”
Mertz understands better the business landscape in China and how initiatives and the government help companies. He sees both sides of the recent tariff tiffs between the countries.
“I think it was interesting being over there and talking to students we met there. They are very objective with how they judge situations, whereas Americans are more emotional. They are more favorable to our foreign policy. They are not anti-American. They respect our nation. The Chinese were happy to see us and we were happy to engage in their culture. They were hospitable and extremely happy we were there.”
As for soccer, it’s the competition that he loves the most. Whether or not he becomes a professional player, the sport will help him in his business endeavors.
“Even though it is not work experience, soccer is helpful in a less tangible way. You are working with people on teams and against others on other teams. That will help me as I go about my work the rest of my life.”