A day before her 15th birthday, Braya Sawyer’s teammates helped her to an easy shutout victory.
While it might be argued that no win is easy, Brainerd/Little Falls’ 4-0 win over the Bemidji Lumberjacks Friday, Dec. 6, was as close as it can get for a goalie. Sawyer needed to make just five saves for her second straight shutout victory.
The night before in Buffalo, Sawyer made 11 saves for another 4-0 victory to give her two shutouts on the season.
“Usually during a shutout, only the goalie gets recognition, but I think those two games, our team, that was a team shutout,” Sawyer said. “I couldn’t have done that without them. We outshot both teams and it was mostly the team. I made a couple of saves. It was all them.”
Sawyer and Warriors head coach Jack Freeman both agree B/LF’s net play is helped by having talented defenders in front. Freeman said the Warriors’ defense is the team’s strength and defense is the identity.
While shutouts are nice, there’s nothing quite like quieting the skeptics. It was believed goaltending would be the biggest question mark for the Warriors this year. In the season’s first game, Sawyer made 15 saves leading to a 3-1 victory over Class 1A’s sixth-ranked Cloquet-Esko-Carlton.
Sawyer admitted to being nervous, but having to replace seasoned veteran and the star of last year’s Class 2A State Tournament Olivia King can do that.
Adding to the pressure are talented teammates with high goals of another state tournament run.
“The first game was really nerve-wracking,” Sawyer said. “I warmed up for over an hour before that game just to make sure I was ready and prepared.”
In six games, Sawyer has collected 98 saves on 107 shots on goal for a .916 save percentage. She owns a 1.49 goals-against average and has logged 307:44 minutes in the net.
“She’s not the tallest kid, but she’s one of the strongest kids on our team,” Freeman said. “In terms of lifting data and whatnot, she’s incredibly strong. She’s incredibly athletic. What she doesn’t have in size, she makes up for with her strength and her athleticism.”
Sawyer’s two losses were a 4-3 loss to Class 2A’s fifth-ranked Eden Prairie and a 3-0 loss to 2A’s eighth-ranked Forest Lake. Sawyer made 30 saves against Eden Prairie and 16 against Forest Lake.
“What I love about her is she just has that mindset where she just wants to go compete,” Freeman said. “Whether that’s in practice where she always wants the next drill, the next puck, the next rep. She never wants to take a rest. That carries over to games.
“You’re always concerned when you put a young kid in a big spot, but to her credit, in every big spot she’s been in, she’s shown up and has been great.”
Last year as an eighth-grader behind King, Sawyer finished 1-0 with eight saves in five games played. She posted a 0.60 goals-against average and a .889 save percentage. Her win came in a 6-1 victory over Bemidji, but it was what she learned by watching King that may have prepared her the most for this season.
“I learned leadership skills,” Sawyer said. “She was good on and off the ice. She was an amazing leader. She worked hard in every practice and that’s just really good to have on the team.”
Sawyer is being pushed by fellow freshman Emily Johnson. Freeman said both goalies give the Warriors a good chance to win. More importantly, they both are pushing the other.
“We have a very healthy competition,” Sawyer said with a laugh. “We’re still friends. We don’t hate each other. We are really good friends and we just keep pushing each other to get better and better.”
When she’s not stopping pucks being flung at her face, Sawyer is dropping jaws with her singing. The freshman sang the national anthem to start the Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Utah Jazz game last month.
“She sang for us at one of our team meals earlier on in the year,” Freeman said. “We do a Monday shootout where we get to pick somebody to sing at the team meal and when she started singing some jaws hit the floor. She’s got some pretty good singing skills.
“It’s just another example of a well-rounded kid. She is a multiple-sport athlete. She’s in extra-curricular activities like singing and she does a great job with that. It’s good to see kids that are talented in more than one way and aren’t just specializing in one thing. I’m proud of her.”
Other notable performances
Luke Saiko, boys hockey, collected 18 saves in a 3-0 shutout of Buffalo.
Connor Powers, boys basketball, finished with 21 points against Moorhead and 28 points against St. Cloud Apollo.
Griffin Rushin, boys basketball, finished with 20 points against Moorhead and 21 points against St. Cloud Apollo.
Lindsey Booth, girls hockey, finished with two goals and an assist against St. Cloud.
Tristan Dawson, boys swimming and diving, won the 50-yard freestyle and the 100 butterfly and was part of two winning relays against Bemidji.
Career highlight: Being on varsity last year and the two shutouts this year
Other sports: Soccer and lacrosse
Grade-point average: 3.9
Favorite class: Science
Favorite food: Pasta
Favorite movie: "Trolls"
Favorite website or app: Snapchat
Favorite restaurant: El Tequila
Future plans: Maybe something in the medical field.
Favorite athlete: Devan Dubnyk
Parents: Shena, Robbie and Nicole