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Boys Soccer: Advancing in section is Warriors' goal

Mason Malone (left) handles the ball as Noah Ebinger defends during Brainerd boys soccer practice. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)1 / 2
Mason Malone (left) and Nick Whiteman go after the ball during Brainerd boys soccer practice. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)2 / 2

Following the best regular season in seven years, the fifth-seeded Brainerd Warriors were bumped off by No. 4 Buffalo in a shootout in last year's Section 8-2A quarterfinals.

Brainerd's 8-9 overall record was its best since 2009 when it finished 9-6-1. Warriors coach Tom Grausam believes the program should continue its upward ascent this season with a goal of advancing to the 8-2A semifinals for only the second time in program history.

The only time Brainerd has won a section quarterfinal playoff was 2008.

"All sports are a mind game," Grausam said. "It's how their heads are put on their shoulders. We have to keep them on an even keel all the way through. I told them to have fun, relax, play hard and good things will come from it.

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Brainerd Warriors

  • Head coach: Tom Grausam, third season
  • 2016 finish: 7-6 CLC, 8-9 overall
  • Captains: Noah Sundberg, Ben Westerberg
  • Assistant coaches: Greg Whiteman, Chad Morlock, Nick Weeks (JV 2), Pat Trout (JV 2)

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"I know the players have high expectations. I do too. I would like to see a first-round home game in sections. And, last year was the first time we beat (St. Cloud) Apollo and Sartell in a long time. St. Cloud Tech—we'll try to improve against them and against Willmar since they were 1-2 in our conference last year."

Brainerd returns 12 players from last season, including all-conference midfielder Mason Malone and All-CLC defender Ben Westerberg. Malone led the team in scoring with five goals and nine points.

A position-by-position look at the Warriors:

Keeper:

Junior Noah Sundberg starts his third varsity season. He stopped 101 of 131 shots in 2016 for a .770 save percentage.

"Noah's been doing a lot of work in the offseason to improve," Grausam said. "He was wonderful last year so I expect wonderful things out of him this year. He's been to a lot of camps.

"He's been a great leader. He's one of our captains, he's been getting the boys ready. He's been doing captains' practices, doing Sunday games throughout the year, getting them in the weight room. He's a fantastic leader. He's basically the director of our team. He's going to have to point out where people need to be positioned. He's going to basically develop the speed of the game."

Sundberg's backup will be sophomore Jude Hiltner.

"Last year Jude played JV 2 and some JV1," Grausam said. "He's looking solid too. He's been playing goalie throughout the summer. He's been in the weight room, getting his body ready."

Forward:

The Warriors return their second-leading scorers, sophomore Jack Thorkelson and senior Taylor Shelito. Thorkelson provided six goals and eight points, Shelito five goals and eight points.

"Thorkelson is the faster of the two," Grausam said. "He's a more dynamic player. I look for better play out of him, better runs. He's improved. He's gotten faster, stronger. He will be demanding the ball a lot more.

"Shelito is not as fast, but he's a big, strong, physical player. He has a rocket of a shot. He's a good leader and a well-rounded athlete. With him in the game, it kind of confuses defenses. With Jack's speed, all of a sudden Taylor comes in, and (opponents) don't know what to expect. It's fun to watch them play and sometimes we'll put them together."

Midfield:

Along with Malone, the Warriors return Noah Ebinger and Nick Whiteman.

"Malone is fast on the outside," Grausam said. "Ebinger is fast and has really improved his game from last year. Malone is a goal-getter. He plays hard all the time. If he loses a ball, he wins it back, hustles and gets back to defense."

Whiteman will be the center midfielder.

"Nick will be distributing the ball," Grausam said. "He's good at seeing the field, good with his footwork, and he's a good communicator."

Newcomers include Ian Aadland, Isaac Foster and Grant Yliniemi.

Defense:

Returning along with Westerberg are Jared Lacy and Tanner Larson.

"Westerberg is our rock back there," Grausam said. "He and Lacy are our center defenders. They control the play, they work well together, they communicate well.

"Larson will play outside left. He started there last year. He's solid back there. He makes good runs.

"Our defense is critical. We (graduated) a lot of good players from our defense. This year we have to concentrate on getting the ball out from the back."

Newcomers include Ian Forsythe, Cade Daraitis and Eli Roberts.

Notes:

• The Warriors have added 8-2A opponents Buffalo and St. Michael-Albertville to their regular-season schedule and dropped Moorhead.

• Rule change: Opening kickoffs can now be kicked in any direction. Previously they had to be kicked forward first.

Warriors roster

Seniors: Taylor Shelito F, Mason Wales M, Tim Whiteman D-M, Ian Forsythe D, Tanner Larson D, Gus Robinson DM/D, Ben Westerberg D

Juniors: Noah Ebinger M, Mason Malone M, Grant Yliniemi M, Jerad Lacy D, Noah Sundberg K

Sophomores: Jack Thorkelson F, Nick Whiteman M, Cade Daraitis D, Ian Aadland M, Eli Roberts M, Isaac Foster M

Schedule

Aug 24, at Rogers 3 p.m.

Aug 29, at Sauk Rapids-Rice 5 p.m.

Aug 31, Willmar 5 p.m.

Sept 7, Alexandria 7 p.m.

Sept 12, at Rocori 5 p.m.

Sept 14, St. Cloud Apollo 5 p.m.

Sept 16, at St Michael-Albertville 1 p.m.

Sept 19, St. Cloud Tech at SCSU Husky Stadium 7 p.m.

Sept 21, Sartell 5 p.m.

Sept 23, at Bemidji 1 p.m.

Sept 26, Sauk Rapids-Rice 5 p.m.

Sept 28, at Willmar 5 p.m.

Oct 2, St. Cloud Tech 7:15 p.m.

Oct 5, at Fergus Falls 7 p.m.

Oct 7, Buffalo 1 p.m.

Oct 9, at Alexandria 7 p.m.