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Warriors Athlete of Week: Eckman's offense cruising at a high level

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Brainerd Junior Avery Eckman stretches to return a shot at practice Monday, Oct. 1. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch Video2 / 2

In East Asian martial arts, a black belt denotes a high competence.

Avery Eckman earned her black belt at age 11. Five years later, it has no doubt enabled her to attain a high level of competence on the volleyball court for the Brainerd Warriors.

The junior outside hitter's performance this fall includes leading her team in kills (230). She has added 150 digs, 18 blocks, 13 ace serves and a 90-percent serving percentage.

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Avery Eckman

  • Sport: Volleyball
  • Position: Outside hitter
  • Year: Junior
  • Age: 16
  • Height: 5-9
  • Career highlight: Playing in tournament in Orlando last summer
  • Other sports: Track and field
  • Grade-point average: 4.0
  • Favorite class: Biology
  • Favorite food: Spaghetti
  • Favorite movie: "Dumb and Dumber"
  • Favorite TV show: "White Collar"
  • Favorite restaurant: Mongo's in St. Cloud
  • Future plans: Possibly pursue career in criminal justice
  • Favorite athlete: Adam Thielen of the Minnesota Vikings
  • Parents: Nate and Kari Eckman

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Last week, she took charge in a 3-1 win over Sartell with 23 kills (.526 hitting percentage), 13 digs, one ace serve and one block. In a 3-1 win against Sauk Rapids, she finished with 16 kills (.351), five digs and a block. Tuesday, Oct. 2, at Willmar, she crushed 25 kills.

Her efforts have helped push Brainerd to a 13-5 record. The last time Brainerd was 13-5 at this point in the season was 2003.

Warriors head coach Rick Kuehlwein said the difference between Eckman's play this year and 2017 is she has reduced her number of errors per match and she's become more consistent.

"She's playing at another level right now as far as attacking," he said. "Her defense has been much improved. We count on her to pass the ball.

"We keep her on the floor all the time. Her serves are still erratic but her offense is cruising at the next level, believe me."

Eckman attributes her success to the fact the team is clicking much better as a unit this season.

"Our back row and our setters have been getting me the ball," she said, "so that's definitely the key to success. We've been playing as a team better this year."

A summer trip to an AAU tournament in Orlando last summer greatly benefited the Warriors. Brainerd had no 18-year-olds on its roster but played in that age division. The Warriors finished in the upper half of their division with a 5-4 mark.

"We were down there for eight days," Eckman said. "I can't remember what our record was but we played some really good teams. One team we played, they were all committed Division Is and they were all 18.

"It was just a good experience knowing we had just played against those teams and that we could pretty much play with anyone in our conference. That really helped our confidence a lot and of course it was a good bonding experience for all of us."

Kuehlwein said Eckman's explosiveness is causing problems for opposing teams.

"Her vertical jump is probably close to 30 inches right now, which is about 12 inches higher than the average high school girl," he said. "When Avery gets to the top of her jump, it doesn't matter if you're 6-2 or 6-3, she can go over the top of you.

"She's developed some new shots. You can't always just pound the ball through somebody. She can do cut shots, tip shots, place the ball better.

"She's an excellent back row attacker. It's just wonderful to have in your arsenal if you can have someone to hit from the back row. We put in an outlet play where it's a crossing pattern and it's almost unstoppable. She and Courtney both run the outlet and both do a good job. They're the primary reasons why we're (13-5)."

Nate Eckman, one of Kuehlwein's assistant coaches, is an accomplished sand volleyball player. Avery Eckman said her father has taught her almost everything she knows about the game and can be demanding at times.

"I get lot of yelling and stuff, kind of more than anyone else, I would say, but it's alright," she said.

Eckman is a dedicated weightlifter. She said she's constantly in the weight room, pretty much year round.

"It helps getting the vertical, being able to be more explosive," Eckman said of weightlifting. "The weight room coaches are always so nice. They teach me all the lifts. They're just great."

She also plays volleyball year-round. She plays for Central Lakes College's Junior Olympic team, for Brainerd's summer league team and also plays sand volleyball.

"It helps a lot because it's just good to be able to touch the ball as much as you can," Eckman said. "You practice as much as you can because the timing for hitting and serve receive comes through reps. No one can just step in and be really good at that kind of stuff. They need to get as many reps as possible."

Kuehlwein said, in addition to Eckman's volleyball skills, she's coachable and is finishing her scoring opportunities this season.

"She can have down parts during the match," he said, "but it's at the end of the match where she's a go-to. Courtney and her both are go-to players. Our whole team has gotten better.

"Avery's all for the team. She doesn't care if she gets five kills or if someone else gets them. That's the kind of player she is. She's not selfish at all."

Other notable efforts

• Jacquilyn Rude and Gabby VanHorn, swimming, each won two events vs. Rocori.

• Courtney Russell, volleyball, finished with 14 kills and 15 digs vs. Sauk Rapids.

• Joe Klang, football, rushed for 141 yards vs. Bemidji.