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Warriors Athlete of Week: Westerberg was Brainerd's defensive anchor

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Brainerd’s Ben Westerberg kicks the ball during a game this season. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

In 18 games, including playoffs, the Brainerd Warrior boys soccer team surrendered a measly average of 1.4 goals per game this season.

Six of Brainerd's eight victories were via shutout.

That stellar season-long defensive effort helped the Warriors finish 8-7-3 overall, earn a home playoff game for the first time since 2010 and register the program's second playoff victory—its first since 2008.

Warriors coach Tom Grausam called senior Ben Westerberg Brainerd's defensive "anchor" this season. Westerberg and the defensive corps helped minimize the number of goals allowed and restricted the number of quality shots keeper Noah Sundberg had to stop.

Grausam said Westerberg was credited with saving four goals after Sundberg made the initial stop and rushed to get back into position.

"Ben really took control of our back line," Grausam said. "He was vocal, a team leader, a team captain. Before games he was the one who was talking a lot, helping people get up. He was like the director of our midfield and central defense and everybody forward.

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Ben Westerberg

  • Sport: Soccer
  • Position: Defense
  • Year: Senior
  • Age: 17
  • Height: 6-1
  • Season highlight: Making a save during Sept. 7 game vs. Alexandria
  • Other sports: Basketball
  • Favorite class: AP Literature
  • Favorite food: Tacos
  • Favorite movie: "Shawshank Redemption"
  • Favorite restaurant: Buffalo Wild Wings
  • Future plans: Attend college, possibly pursue career in pharmacy
  • Favorite athlete: Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio Spurs
  • Parents: Patricia and William Westerberg

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"It's hard to talk about a defensive player, but without him our team wouldn't have been as successful. He helped Noah because Noah didn't have a lot of shots on net this year compared to previous years. Ben was there. He was the director of our defense. Next year we will be really hurting for that position because Ben is so vocal. He told everyone where to move and go. He saw the field very well."

A three-year varsity player and two-year starter, Westerberg said his role of being a leader and defensive rock started his junior season.

"It was kind of expressed to me that that's my job. That's what needed to happen for our team to succeed so that's what I did," he said.

This season, the Warriors allowed 18 fewer goals than they did in 2016.

"I think the main thing was communication," Westerberg said of the defensive improvement, "and also having more time together. Putting in a lot of work over the summer helped a lot as well."

Ian Forsythe, Jarod Lacy and Tanner Larson were Westerberg's primary defensive mates.

"They do a great job communicating and helping me out," Westerberg said. "They are terrific defenders in general."

Westerberg, who collected two assists this season, said Sundberg was there to deny opposing offenses when shots did get through the defense.

"Noah did a great job of keeping us in formation and also making some great saves, as well," Westerberg said.

In addition to Westerberg, Sundberg, Tim Whiteman and Gus Robinson were team captains and leaders.

"They did a great job," Westerberg said. "Tim and Gus in the midfield did a great job keeping that group intact, helping our formations, being good role models, keeping us together as a team.

"Noah does a great job talking from the back, and just leading by example."

Grausam said Westerberg's style of play kept Brainerd in many games.

"He attacked the ball," Grausam said. "He cleared balls nicely for us. He just kept us in a lot of games. Without him there would have been a lot more goals scored against us."

Westerberg said it was a gratifying season, winning eight games and accomplishing two playoff milestones.

"It felt great to get that home section game," he said. "It was even better to win it. Our goal going into (the season) was to get a home section game. It just felt great. The team was excited to get that. It just added to the fact that we won it."

Other notable efforts:

• Charlie Geraets, football, rushed for 215 yards and four scores vs Moorhead.

• Courtney Russell, volleyball, accumulated 27 kills and 25 digs in the Brainerd Tournament, 16 kills, 14 digs vs. Alexandria and 12 kills vs. Bemidji and 12 kills and 17 digs vs. Rocori.

• Cara Helgeson, volleyball, amassed 68 set assists in the Brainerd Tournament, 37 vs. Alexandria, 29 vs. Bemidji and 28 vs. Rocori.

• Avery Eckman, volleyball, collected 23 kills and 24 digs in the Brainerd Tournament, 17 digs vs. Alexandria, 11 kills and 13 digs vs. Bemidji and 14 kills and 14 digs vs. Rocori.

• Payge Fitterer, tennis, finished third in the Section 8-2A singles tournament.

• Libby Kurtzman-Taya Person, tennis, finished fourth in the Section 8-2A doubles tournament.

• Lily Schaeffer and Emily Rugloski, girls cross country, earned All-Central Lakes Conference distinction.