Girls Hockey: Warriors to open season with high expectations
Expectations may be higher than they've ever been for the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors.
BLF, which suffered a crushing 3-2 loss in four overtimes against Roseau in the Section 8-2A championship game last winter, was ranked fourth in the preseason by followthepuck.com and 13th by Let's Play Hockey. The Warriors return a number of players from a team that finished 25-3, qualified for the program's first section final in and won the Central Lakes Conference championship.
Warriors coach Jim Ernster says his team should benefit from the experience of playing in a section final.
"I tell people it was like a soul-crushing defeat for sure," he said of the loss to Roseau. "At the same time, there's no doubt we will benefit from that. That experience hopefully fuels the girls' fire.
"The other thing we have to understand is you can't take that stuff for granted. It's not a foregone conclusion that you get back there. There are plenty of good teams. We made it to the section final with this many girls returning, but all kinds of things can happen.
"We go from flying under the radar to now having a target on the front and back of our jerseys. Everyone will be gunning for us. We'll see how we play with that. Last year, we used the underdog card a lot. This year, we have to adjust to being the favorite. For everyone else playing us, it will be the Stanley Cup Final for them."
In addition, Ernster places no value in rankings.
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- Head coach: Jim Ernster ninth season (2002-03 through 2006-07, 2014-18)
- Career record: 110-89 (.553)
- 2016-17 record: 10-1 CLC, 25-3 overall, CLC champions, Section 8-2A runner-up
- 2017-18 Captains: Grace Schulte, Katie Orth
- 2017-18 Assistant coaches: Toby Kvalevog, Sandy Smith, Carl Sneep, Alex Citrowske, Tate Rusk
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"I purposely don't send in any rankings because I could care less about them," he said. "I just know I can control what we do at practice, what effort the girls are giving us there. That's all we worry about. I'm not worried about rankings."
A position-by-position look at the Warriors:
Junior Olivia King has been the starter for three years. In 2016-17, she compiled a 24-3-0 record, 1.71 goals-against average and .920 save percentage with four shutouts.
She's being pushed by senior Nicole Schultz, who played 109 minutes last season with a 1-0-0 record, 2.34 GAA and .833 save percentage.
The Warriors scrimmaged Forest Lake, Tartan, North St. Paul and Eastview Nov. 3-4.
"From what we saw (that weekend), it's not a foregone conclusion that anything would be quite so one-sided like it's been in the past," Ernster said of the goalie competition. "Nicole had a great weekend and Olivia played well.
"We've also got a seventh-grader who will handle our JV duties, Breya Sawyer. She played (Nov. 3) and did a fantastic job. (The scrimmage) was good for all of them. They saw a lot of quality shots."
Leading scorer Ally Smith, who provided 52 points last season, has graduated but the Warriors return a host of offensive players.
Junior Abby Pohlkamp was the second-leading scorer behind Ally Smith with 46 points. Others back, who finished in the top 10 in team scoring, include sophomore Gabbie Smith with 42 points, junior Lindsey Booth, 41, junior Cheyenne Abear, 36, and sophomore Josie Kramer, 16.
Ernster said senior Grace Schulte will likely move up from defense to forward this winter. She provided 22 points from the blue line last year.
"We don't have someone like Ally who was a game-stopper and that's fine," Ernster said. "We've got a number of forwards, who on any given night, will be the person that carries us.
"It will have to be collaborative and we'll have to be encouraging of one another. You want competition so everyone pushes each other. You don't want that competition to breed jealousy. We need to make sure on any given night whoever that girl is, rock on, and let's get behind her. I could see it being a number of different girls throughout the season."
Ernster said with the move of Schulte to forward that sophomore Sophie Robinson will likely be the anchor of a young defensive corps this winter. Robinson provided 26 points last season.
Others defenders in the top six include junior Marre Welinski, sophomores Emma Smith and Jenna Nieman and freshman Taylor Larson. Emma Smith supplied 12 points and Larson added three. Nieman and Welinski played in a combined six games.
"We need them to be solid," Ernster said. "We need them to make sure they're moving pucks. That's where a weekend like (Nov. 3-4) helped us. We saw a lot of pressure.
"What the defense has to adjust to is moving the puck quickly and playing with poise. The biggest thing, as young as we are, is a matter of getting these girls to play with poise and with confidence."
Others in the running on the blue line are Reagan Aus, Melissa Anez and Chantrelle Thayer.
1-Olivia King G,
2-Ella Kalusche F,
3-Grace Schulte D/F
4-Katie Orth F
5-Cheyenne Abear F
6-Taylor Larson D/F
7-Chantrelle Thayer D
8-Emma Booth D
9-Sophie Robinson D
10-Gabbie Smith F
11-Lindsey Booth F
12-Shaylee Stroot F
13-Melissa Anez D
14-Jenna Nieman D
15-Marre Welinske D
16-Emma Smith D
17-Georgi Aus F
18-Josie Kramer F
19-Olivia Wiskow F
20-Abby Pohlkamp F
21-Avery Lemieur F
22-Sierra Kicker F
23-Riah Stroot D
24-Reagan Aus D
25-Brynne Folden F
26-Serena White F
27-Julia Marthaler D/F
28-Molly Rudolph F
30-Nicole Schultz G,
35-Breya Sawyer G
Nov 14, Cloquet 7:15 p.m.
Nov 17, Alexandria 7:15 p.m.
Nov 21, at St. Cloud Icebreakers 7:15 p.m.
Nov 25, vs Minnetonka at Little Falls 3 p.m.
Nov 28, River Lakes 7:15 p.m.
Dec 5, at Moorhead 6 p.m.
Dec 8, at Bemidji 7:30 p.m.
Dec 12, at Sartell/SRR 7:15 p.m.
Dec 15, Roseau 6 p.m.
Dec 16, Warroad 2 p.m.
Dec 19, at Buffalo 7 p.m.
Dec 21, at Alexandria 5:15 p.m.
Dec 26, Tournament at Braemar Arena, Edina
Dec 27, Tournament at Braemar Arena, Edina
Dec 28, Tournament at Braemar Arena, Edina
Jan 4, at River Lakes 7:15 p.m.
Jan 5, Grand Rapids 4 p.m.
Jan 9, St. Cloud Icebreakers 7:15 p.m.
Jan 12, Thief River Falls 7 p.m.
Jan 19, at Roseau 6 p.m.
Jan 23, Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m.
Jan 25, vs. Willmar at Little Falls 7 p.m.
Jan 27, at St. Michael-Albertville 1 p.m.
Jan 30, Sartell/SRR 7:15 p.m.
Feb 3, Moorhead 1 p.m.
Section 8-2A Tournament
Feb 8, Play-In Game at high seed
Feb 10, Quarterfinals at high seed
Feb 13, Semifinals at high seed
Feb 16, Championship at neutral site