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WARRIORS ATHLETE OF WEEK Senior outside hitter one of Brainerd's strengths

Her career-best lifts are 335 pounds in the squat, 225 in the clean and 135 in the bench press. Those impressive totals have helped crown her the girls champion in the last two Sertoma Sunrise Warrior Liftathons.

That strength also helps outside hitter Courtney Ryan stand out on the volleyball court for the Brainerd Warriors. Weightlifting helps her hit harder and jump higher than many volleyball players.

“Weightlifting helps you in jumping, hitting and blocking,” Ryan said. “It makes you much quicker. It helps you on defense because if you’re not able to get to a ball, you’re not able to pass it well.”

Warriors coach Jared Diem thinks it’s a bonus for his program to have a champion weightlifter as one of its top players.

“I have a weightlifting role model in the gym that a lot of teams don’t,” Diem said. “Some weightlifters are not in any sport, they’re just lifters. We have a resource that all our players can talk to about how they can get stronger and how they can improve their physical speed and physical strength.

“Courtney’s definitely shown growth from the time she started volleyball to now, and she still has room to grow. Any time a player plateaus you wish they would try and get better. Courtney desires to get better every year. I can’t remember a time she didn’t want to stay after practice and hit.

“She’s the hardest hitter we’ve got, one of the hardest hitters we’ve ever had.”

Ryan leads the team with 201 digs and in kills with 190. She has contributed 28 blocks and 19 ace serves.

“I try to be a consistent hitter because no one wants players who have good days and bad days,” she said. “I consistently want to hit into the court, be a smart player, know the right time to swing it, and the right time to tip, and help with blocks.”

“I try to bring quickness and stay on my toes. If a ball gets shanked you try and make sure you’re ready to put yourself in line for it. You never give up on a ball.”

Diem compares the two-year captain favorably to Sydnie Mauch, last year’s top Warrior, who’s being red-shirted at Minnesota-Duluth this year. Ryan, like Mauch, has been nominated for all-state honors.

“When Sydnie came to the front row everyone relaxed and calmed down because we knew she would deliver, no matter what,” Diem said. “Courtney is that person in the back row and in many ways in the front row as well.

“Strength-wise, Courtney’s the best defensive player I’ve seen at Brainerd High School. She moves quickly to the ball. She’s a hard person to beat off the ball. When a ball’s going way out she’s there. I have a hard time beating her in practice because she’s so quick. She reacts so well.”

Ryan, who led the Central Lakes Conference in serving percentage last year and is among the leaders again this year, is an impact player, Diem said, like Mauch was. Ryan missed a weekend tournament early in the season due to a family commitment and Diem said the difference in the Warriors’ play without her was noticeable.

“That, to me, is an impact player, when you see an impact player is not there, and what happens to the team when she isn’t,” Diem said. “Defense was definitely a weak spot at that tournament for us. Courtney takes charge in the back row. She’s a leader back there, she’s loud and relentless for the ball.”

She’s also the most intense practice player that Diem has coached.

“I’ve never had a player work as hard at practice as she does, and she’s been doing that since she was a freshman,” Diem said. “That’s a big stat in my eyes. Because of her intensity, and desire to excel in every drill, she makes people work harder. If you’re in her (practice) group, you better be working hard.”

Other notable efforts:

■ Fallon Ryan, Reilly Peterson and Hannah McKeag, swimming, each won two events and were on a winning relay against Willmar. Ryan added two wins in the Section 8-2A True Team meet and won two events and was on two winning relays against Alexandria. McKeag and Peterson each won two events and were on two winning relays against Alexandria.

■ Allison Kosobud, cross country, finished eighth in the CLC meet to earn all-conference honors.

■ Peder Smith and Gerrit Garberich, cross country, finished 14th and 15th in the CLC meet to earn all-conference honors.

■ Conor Gessell, football, rushed for 224 yards and two TDs against Grand Rapids and 182 yards and two TDs against Alexandria.

■ Luke Boran, football, ran for 116 yards and two TDs against Alexandria.

MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at