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Boys soccer: Coach hopes team has turned corner into winning program

Brainerd Warrior Eli Roberts works on his foot skills at practice last week. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

For only the second time in program history, the Brainerd Warriors won a Section 8-2A playoff game in 2017, defeating fifth-seeded St. Michael-Albertville 2-0 in the quarterfinals.

Warriors coach Tom Grausam hopes his squad builds off that accomplishment this fall and makes advancing in the playoffs an annual occurrence. Grausam hopes that victory has enabled his program to turn the corner and become a consistent winner.

"Our team is such a group of great kids. They're a close-knit group," Grausam said. "When you have a close-knit group, the play is much better. They're having a lot more fun. They're mentally stronger. They all believe they can do it.

"I think the biggest thing is trying to get them to believe in themselves and their teammates—not having that losing feeling. They know what it takes to get to that second round. We'll see what the season holds. I can't predict the future but our goal is to get back to that second round and further."

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Boys soccer

  • Head coach: Tom Grausam, fourth season
  • 2017 finish: 4-6-2 CLC, 8-7-3 overall
  • Captains: Noah Sundberg, Noah Ebinger, Mason Malone, Ben Kippes
  • Assistant coaches: Greg Whiteman, Chad Morlock, Nick Weeks (JV 2), Pat Trout (JV 2)

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Fourth-seeded Brainerd, which finished 8-7-3 overall after losing to top-seeded Maple Grove 3-1 in the section semifinals, returns eight players from 2017. In all, 55 players in grades 9-12 have been working out in preparation for the opener Thursday, Aug. 23, at home against Rogers.

"I don't think Brainerd has ever had that many (boys) high school soccer players," Grausam said, noting the Warriors will field varsity, JV1 and JV2 teams.

A position by position look at the Warriors:

Keeper

Four-year starter Noah Sundberg returns. Last year he faced 120 shots, stopping 96, for an .800 save percentage.

"Noah's been working hard in the offseason," Grausam said. "We're looking for great things out of him. He's gotten a lot smarter with the ball and a lot stronger. We want him to be able to control the field, direct the flow of the game."

Junior Jude Hiltner, who played in two games last season, will back up Sundberg.

Defense

Jarod Lacy is the only returning defender.

"He's aggressive back there," Grausam said. "I would like to see him talking a bit more but overall he's a solid defender."

Grausam said Lacy's defensive partner will be senior Ben Kippes, who played in the Iowa high school ranks last season.

"He is an aggressor. He will attack the ball, he will carry the ball, he will make runs," Grausam said. "He sees the field very well. His foot skills are very good. This is his first year here and he fits in really well with the other players. He's been playing with them over the summer. He's a great addition to the team."

Grausam said Noah Ebinger will move from midfield to defense.

"We moved him back there to get some speed, some intelligence," Grausam said. "He has good footwork. He will do a fine job on the left side making those outside runs. He will also play some midfield."

Max Wheeler or Eli Roberts will man the right side defense position. Both are juniors and both will be in their first full year on varsity.

"We'll see how they do, coming up from JV into the varsity level where the play is much faster, much more physical," Grausam said. "Both are hockey players so they know the physical aspect of the sport."

Defensive midfield

Isaac Foster and Nick Whiteman return. Whiteman was the team's leading scorer in 2017 supplying four goals and 12 assists.

"Nick played midfield last year," Grausam said. "He was a center mid or outside mid. He really took his defensive game up. We need someone to be able to start the attack and I think he's the person that will be able to start the attack. He can see the field, distribute the ball, move it from outside in. He makes good runs, he communicates. He's like another director of the game.

"Isaac plays similar to Nick. He has good foot skills. He learned that position well last year. He's gotten a lot more physical and his speed has improved."

Backing up Whiteman and Foster will be juniors Ian Aadland and Atlie Danielson.

"Both are coming up from JV 1-2," Grausam said. "They're inexperienced just because of the speed of the game. Both have really improved their game tremendously."

Offensive midfield

Mason Malone, Grant Yliniemi, Keenan Hodge and Kaleb Sundquist head this position group. Ebinger, Kippes and Anthony Menghini will also see action here.

Malone, an All-Central Lakes Conference player, was the team's second-leading scorer last year with 10 goals and four assists.

"With Mason being a captain and three-year starter, he knows that role very well," Grausam said. "He has the speed, the size, the physical ability to bump people off the ball. Mason has potential to be one of the top scorers this year."

Forwards

Jack Thorkelson, who enters his third season, provided four goals and three assists in 2017. Anthony Menghini begins his first ful varsity season.

"Menghini has a lot to learn but he's very physical," Grausam said. "He's a strong player, he's fast, he's a drive-to scorer just like Jack. Jack has that drive. Jack's a great communicator. He's really improved his game."

Roster

Seniors: Noah Ebinger D, Ben Kippes D, Jarod Lacy D, Mason Malone M, Noah Sundberg K, Grant Yliniemi M

Juniors: Jack Thorkelson A, Nick Whiteman D, Isaac Foster D, Jude Hiltner K, Kaleb Sundquist M, Eli Roberts D, Ian Aadland D, Max Wheeler D, Atlie Danielson D, Keenan Hodge M

Sophomores: Anthony Menghini A

Schedule

Thursday, Aug 23, Rogers 5 p.m.

Monday, Aug 27, at Buffalo 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Aug 28, Sauk Rapids 7 p.m.

Thursday, Aug 30, at Willmar 5 p.m.

Saturday, Sept 8, at Alexandria 5 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept 11, Rocori 7 p.m.

Thursday, Sept 13, at St. Cloud Apollo 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept 15, St. Michael-Albertville 3 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept 18, St. Cloud Tech 7 p.m.

Thursday, Sept 20, at Sartell 5 p.m.

Saturday, Sept 22, Bemidji 3 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept 25, at Sauk Rapids 5 p.m.

Thursday, Sept 27, Willmar 7:15 p.m.

Tuesday, Oct 2, St. Cloud Tech at SCSU Husky Stadium 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct 4, Fergus Falls 7 p.m.

Monday, Oct 8, Alexandria 7 p.m.

Section 8-2A

Thursday, Oct 11, Quarterfinals

Saturday, Oct 13, Semifinals

Tuesday, Oct 16, Championship

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