Warriors Athlete of Week: Balance, depth ease pressure on top scorer
In her two previous seasons as a varsity hockey player, Ally Smith was far and away the leading scorer for the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors.
This season she remains a player opposing teams focus on stopping, but the Warriors now have numerous options and weapons who can bury the puck and ease some of the load on the senior center.
Following Tuesday's 5-2 win at Princeton, Smith leads the team with 23 goals and 18 assists for 41 points, but five teammates have at least 21 points—Abby Pohlkamp has 37, Lindsey Booth 34, Gabbie Smith 33, Cheyenne Abear 29 and Sophie Robinson 21. That balance has helped BLF win 18 of its first 19 games.
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- Sport: Hockey
- Position: Center
- Year: Senior
- Age: 18
- Height: 5-foot-7
- Career highlight: Scoring game-winning goal to beat Minnetonka with one second left
- Other sports: Soccer, track and field
- Grade-point average: 3.6
- Favorite class: AP Language with Mr. Devine
- Favorite food: Fish tacos
- Favorite movie: "Miracle"
- Favorite TV show: "Grey's Anatomy"
- Hobbies: Hunting, fishing
- Future plans: Attend Bemidji State University, play soccer
- Favorite athlete: Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins
- Parents: Tom and Kris Smith
"That's what's super nice on our team. You never know who the goals are coming from," Ally Smith said. "It's super fun because so many people are getting their first varsity goals. It's super nice to spread the wealth."
Warriors coach Jim Ernster said balance and depth have enabled Smith to continue to flourish. Depth allows Smith to be fresher for her next shift.
"Playing four lines regularly, which we did even Saturday (in a 3-2 win over Class 2A's eighth-ranked Minnetonka), when she hits the ice she's got more fuel in the tank," Ernster said. "That allows her to play at the level she's been playing at all year long.
"We've seen some really good players as we've gone through our schedule. Some girls are going to Division I schools. I haven't seen any player on the ice as good as Ally Smith this year. It's been fun to watch."
Ernster and the Warriors watched Smith score one of her biggest goals at Minnetonka with one second remaining in regulation. The first assist went to linemate Ella Kalusche.
"Initially I took a shot with about four seconds left," Smith said. "Ella and Gabbie went into the corner. Ella made a heck of a play and dug (the puck) out. She hit me high in the slot and I just shot it over the goalie."
Ernster said the game-winner was a credit to all of the Warriors on the ice at the time.
"There was a faceoff in our defensive zone, which always gets to be kind of dicy, with about 20 seconds left," he said. "We got control of the draw right way. There was a little battle in the neutral zone close to their blue line. Ally broke free, came in and had a really good scoring chance to begin with. She just hammered that first shot and their goalie made a great save. At that point, I thought 'Dang it, we're probably going to go to overtime.'
"Then Gabbie and Ella go into the corner and keep working and working. Alley sees that Ella gets control of the puck and Ally makes a goal-scorer's move. She gets open, Ella makes a great pass, and Ally hammers it again. She just blew it past (the goalie)."
Ally, Gabbie and Kalusche possess the characteristics that make up a potent first line. Gabbie has 10 goals and 23 assists, Kalusche three goals and four assists.
"Gabbie and I, being sisters, we have chemistry on the ice that's rare to find," Ally said. "We know where each other are on the ice. Ella's a hard-worker. She gets the puck deep, does the little things right that help Gabbie and I out a lot. She lets us create space."
Ernster said one of the substantial assets a player like Ally has is that he can put her in different situations, including penalty kill and power play, and she can handle it.
"She also sets the tone with her backchecking, and her attention to detail on draws," he said. "In the last three weeks, I don't know if I've seen her lose a draw. She's spent extra time before practice, whether it's with coach (Carl) Sneep or coach (Alex) Citrowske, and made (faceoffs) an instrumental part of her game. That's been tremendously helpful.
"That's what great players do—they work on little detail things that make a difference—and that's what she's done."
Smith is one of the team captains along with Brooke Watland and Kennedy Rusk. Those three, and fellow seniors Mara Roberts and Abby Thelen, have given the Warriors the stability required to have a successful season. Ernster said he met with the captains before the Minnetonka game to see how things were going and to gauge the temperature of the team.
"I was joking with all three that is there any chance you can take a medical redshirt and come back and be captains again next year," he said. "Along with Mara, we've got four seniors—with Abby hurt right now. We've got some young girls. With that can come some divergence in personalities. Those four, and when Abby's there, those five have been the glue that's held the team together. People have asked me quite often what's been the biggest surprise about this team and I say how well this group has jelled. That's a credit to our senior leaders.
"Ally's so humble. Obviously she's a gifted athlete. She's not about seeking attention. She's about making sure team comes first."
Brainerd is 18-1-0 overall and riding a four-game win streak since its only loss—1-0 Jan. 3 at Grand Rapids. The Warriors' host Roseau Friday, a game that could determine the No. 1 seed for the Section 8-2A tournament.
"It's been unreal," Smith said of this season. "Coming into the season we knew we were going to be good and be a powerhouse because the speed and ability and athleticism on our team is so big. It's so special for my senior year to be going this way.
"We've got high hopes, but it's one game at a time."
Other notable efforts:
• Kylee Heurung, girls basketball, had 19 points and 14 rebounds against Sauk Rapids, 19 points and three rebounds vs. Apollo and 18 points and 14 rebounds vs. Willmar.
• Michael Bylander and Preston Owen, swimming, each won two events and were on two winning relays vs. Willmar.
• Alex Stone, girls Alpine skiing, won the Sunset Race at Giants Ridge and the Cook County Invite at Lutsen.
• Cole Kubesh and Logan Theodore, wrestling, each finished 6-0 in the Rick Lee Dual Meet Tournament.
• Millie Klefsaas, gymnastics, won three events and the all-around title vs. Fergus Falls.