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Warriors Athlete of Week: Defender one of unbeaten Warriors' unsung leaders

Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors defenseman Mara Roberts handles the puck at practice Tuesday.

A defensemen's multitude of responsibilities include preventing opposing players from scoring and from taking clean shots at the net, clearing out opponents from in front of the net and anchoring the blue line in the offensive zone.

Their efforts don't often show up on the game sheet, but their role is vital to the team's success. Defenders are the unsung leaders of a hockey team.

Senior defender Mara Roberts is one of many leaders of an unbeaten Brainerd/Little Falls Warrior girls hockey team. She has helped Brainerd's defense limit the opposition to 16 goals during a 11-0-0 start—the first 11-game unbeaten start in program history—and has helped goalie Olivia King register two shutouts.

Last weekend, Brainerd recorded two of the biggest victories in program history when it bumped off Class 1A's fourth-ranked Thief River Falls and 1A's third-ranked Warroad by 6-3 scores.

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Mara Roberts

  • Sport: Hockey
  • Position: Defense
  • Year: Senior
  • Age: 17
  • Height: 5-foot-3
  • Career highlight: Playing in 14U state hockey tournament
  • Other sports: Soccer, lacrosse
  • Grade-point average: 3.6
  • Favorite class: Math
  • Favorite food: Any pasta
  • Favorite movie: "Miracle"
  • Favorite TV show: "Grey's Anatomy"
  • Favorite websites: "Twitter" and "Instagram"
  • Future plans: Attend college, plans to become a teacher
  • Favorite hockey player: Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild
  • Parents: Lisa and Shon Roberts
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"Those were two really good teams we played against," Roberts said. "It was really good to beat them. It let us know where we are with our season and the progress we want to make.

"I think everyone is really proud of how our record turned out this year, but I think we need to stay humble with our record and just keep getting better."

Warriors head coach Jim Ernster credits defenders' film work with assistant coaches Carl Sneep and Toby Kvalevog for the weekend sweep.

"One of the things we've been stressing to all of our defensemen—and I have to give credit to Carl for working with the defense—is not only positionally, but also what he calls a 'good stick,' use your stick to create a little bit of a buffer to force their forwards into uncomfortable situations," Ernster said. "We were getting a little lax with that.

"Carl and Toby spent extra time looking over film with the girls (last) Thursday before our games Friday and Saturday. Mara put it into use, came out and had a fantastic weekend."

Roberts said Sneep, a former Boston College defenseman and minor leaguer, has pointed out multiple times to the team's defenders to keep their sticks active.

"And stretch as far as we can to give forwards on the other team less time and space," Roberts said. "I think that helped to have him point that out and work on it in games."

At a recent Brainerd Sports Boosters Club meeting, Ernster said he spoke about the high character of this team, especially the seniors.

"That character is what drives her on and off the ice," Ernster said. "She's a hard worker. You never have to worry about Mara coming to the rink and mailing it in. Every day she comes to the rink she puts forth hard effort, both on and off the ice. Our younger girls see that and they're like 'OK, we've got to go along with the pace here,' and they have no choice because of these senior leaders and Mara's one of them. I think that helps set the tone."

Roberts is paired on the blue line with eighth-grader Emma Booth. The duo has become an effective pair.

"Both me and Booth, we're aggressive on the puck," Roberts said. "We back each other up when one of us steps in.

"In our first game, she was really nervous to be playing defense in high school hockey. But we talked her through it and she's been playing really good. It's also cool to be able to teach her and tell her what I know."

Although Roberts isn't a captain, she's a leader who tries to encourage younger teammates and attempts to make sure all girls on the team are included.

"We're fortunate that we've got some younger girls that complement our whole core in general," Ernster said. "Mara and Kennedy Rusk have been back there the last couple years. Kennedy's a captain, but Mara's a senior leader. It's all jelled the last 4-5 games and it's all come together."

Other notable efforts:

• Jack Evans, boys hockey, had two goals and two assists vs. Alexandria.

• Kylee Heurung, girls basketball, scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds vs. Tech.

• Millie Klefsaas, gymnastics, won one event and the all-around title vs. Tech.

• Gunnar Niemeyer, swimming, won two events and was on two winning relays vs. Alexandria.

• Michael Russell, boys basketball, scored 24 points vs. Rocori.

• Ally Smith, girls hockey, scored four goals vs. Warroad.