Warriors Athlete of Week: McElfresh providing scoring punch, leadership
Ally Smith and Brynn Waters were premier scorers for the Brainerd Warrior girls soccer team for the last several years.
A four-time all-conference player, Smith graduated as the program's second-leading scorer with 76 goals and 24 assists. Waters, a two-time all-conference player, supplied 33 goals and 16 assists the last three seasons.
So the Warriors were wondering who would seize a scoring role this year. Senior captain Regan McElfresh is one of many Warriors who has stepped to the fore on offense this fall. In the season's first four games, McElfresh kicked in seven goals, including five in two contests and recorded a goal in all four of those games. Those numbers earned her Soccer Hub Player of the Week honors.
Through seven games, McElfresh's 13 goals were tied for second in Class 2A. Her 35 total points (2 points for a goal) rank her first on the team in both categories. Tuesday against Rocori, she scored a hat trick and collected two assists.
In addition to McElfresh, Gabbie Smith, Lexi Roby, Gina Wasniewski and Annika Patrick round out the top five scorers. Gabbie Smith has seven goals and three assists, Roby 6-2, Wasniewski 4-4 and Patrick 3-4.
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- Sport: Soccer
- Position: Midfield
- Year: Senior
- Age: 17
- Height: 5-8
- Career highlight: Scoring on 43-yard free kick vs. Sauk Rapids
- Other sports: Basketball, track and field
- Grade-point average: 4.0
- Favorite class: Calculus
- Favorite food: Pizza
- Favorite TV show: "Grey's Anatomy"
- Favorite website: SnapChat, Instagram
- Future plans: Attend college, probably major in pre-med
- Favorite athlete: Former teammate Ally Smith
- Parents: John McElfresh and Lori Carlson
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"I'm just trying to play my own role," McElfresh said. "I knew the goals would come if I wasn't selfish. Sometimes it's kind of hard not to be selfish. But I knew if I focused on assists the goals would come with that because we need to have someone score. It doesn't matter who."
Warriors head coach Grant Gmeinder expected McElfresh to be an offensive threat this season despite playing a different position.
"In the past she played mostly defense, mostly either center D or outside D," he said. "That's where she played pretty much since ninth grade. She played almost every minute of every game.
"We talked at the end of last season that I planned to move her up to midfield this year as a senior because I thought she could do what she's been doing this year. We expected that. She spent this summer preparing for that.
"She's scoring from all different areas—penalty kicks, free kicks, 50 yards away, she's scored on a breakaway, on shots from 20 yards away, she's dribbled around someone to get a shot off. I'm really impressed with her development. She's been a great player for so long. She's so much better this year than she was last year. She's really improved."
McElfresh said she played outside back in eighth and ninth grade, center defense as a sophomore and last year center defense and some midfield. She said the position switch has "been crazy."
"In summer, I knew I would be playing midfield so I practiced that a lot," McElfresh said. "That helped definitely. I didn't just hop right into it.
"I think it's a lot different. There's a lot more running. I definitely worked harder this summer on my endurance."
Gmeinder believes the game has slowed down to some extent for McElfresh this season.
"She's so comfortable all the time," he said. "She's comfortable with the ball at her feet. She's very composed. She doesn't get too excited very often. When she gets close in, she doesn't miss. Combine that with her ability to shoot from far away, that makes her dangerous. Not only can she score from close in. It seems every other game, she scores from 25 yards away or farther."
This year McElfresh has added the duties of captain with Elli Harting and Roby. McElfresh said she attempts to be a role model.
"We do have a lot of younger girls that have never played varsity," she said. "They are mature but they definitely can use a good role model, showing them what's appropriate, when it's OK to talk, when it's not. That's pretty important. They talk a lot so we have to put them in line a little bit."
Gmeinder said midfield has been a strength of this team with McElfresh, Harting, Roby and Gabbie Smith in that position.
"They've made the game easier for people around them," Gmeinder said. "There's less pressure on our defense when our midfield stops the attack before it even starts.
"We possess the ball well. We've kept it away from other teams. A big part of that is our midfielders and a big part of it is Regan. She's comfortable with the ball. That makes it easier for the people around her. She finds open teammates. She makes the extra pass to another player."
In Gmeinder's first three seasons as head coach the Warriors didn't win a section quarterfinal game. McElfresh said that fact is motivating her and teammates. She believes this year's team is more balanced offensively and doesn't rely on one or two players to score.
"This year we've had six, seven or eight players who have scored already," McElfresh said. "Playing team soccer is going to get us there.
"We always win the ball first. That's what we didn't do last year. It was one of our weaknesses. This year we're really strong on that."
Other notable efforts:
• Britney Fletcher, tennis, scored victories at two No. 2 singles against Bemidji and Willmar to give Brainerd victories in each meet and won the No. 2 singles title in the Moose Tournament.
• Payge Fitterer, tennis, repeated as champion for the third time in the Moose Tournament and went 3-0 in the Warrior Invite at Camp Lake Hubert.
• Katie Streiff, swimming, won two events and was on two winning relays vs. Willmar.
• Kate Kurtzman, tennis, won all three of her No. 3 singles matches without losing a game in the Brainerd Invite.
• Charlie Geraets, football, rushed for 170 yards and two TDs vs Buffalo.
• Sam Miller, football, passed for 101 yards vs. Buffalo.
• Gina Wasniewski, girls soccer, scored a hat trick vs. Willmar.
• Madelyn Gibbons, swimming, won two events and was on two winning relays vs. Apollo.
• Emily Rugloski, cross country, repeated as girls champion in the Run for Your Melon meet.
• Gabbie Smith, girls soccer, scored a hat trick vs. Moorhead.
• Libby Kurtzman-Taya Person, Nicole Rud-Maria Bell and Hannah Rud-Heidi Jacobson, tennis, won their first 10 doubles matches.
• Noah Ebinger, boys soccer, recorded his second clean sheet of the season with a shutout of Rocori.