In less than 12 months, the Brainerd Warriors went from one of the tallest teams in the Central Lakes Conference to one of the shortest in program history.
Head coach Troy Nelson will earn his salary trying to find ways to defend the post as well as create scoring opportunities in the paint.
“We haven’t had to play a ton of different defenses in the past,” Nelson said. “We were able to find the ones that we were really good at. When we were tall and long all we really needed to do was play either man or our 1-3-1 zone. That will not be the case this year. We’re going to have to play multiple defenses and change things up and give teams different looks that they have to prepare for and try to keep them off balance.
“We are a faster team. We’re going to have to push the ball in transition and try to get out and run.”
Brainerd’s top scorer from last year returns in junior point guard Myah Nelson. The three-year starter averaged 11 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals a game. She shot 54% from the field, including 37% from 3-point. She sank 69% of her free throws.
“She put in a lot of time getting stronger and faster in our summer strength program when we were able to run that,” Troy Nelson, her father, said. “She spent a lot of time in the driveway putting up shots and just working on her game on her own.
“When we were finally able to get back in the gym, she was working hard with her teammates to get better as a group.”
The hope this season is to take some of the point guard responsibilities away from Nelson to focus on scoring more. Nelson will still handle the ball a lot, but not as much as in years past thanks to sophomore Kate Stadum who enters her second year of varsity play.
Stadum scored 65 points and added 22 assists and eight steals last season. The 5-foot-8 guard enjoyed another successful volleyball season and Troy Nelson believes she’s ready to handle the point guard role.
“We have some younger point guards who have improved a lot and keep improving,” Troy Nelson said. “I feel they’ll be able to handle the ball. Kate had a good offseason. She’s a really hard worker who will step up and make a lot of improvements and take that next step.”
Also returning to the starting lineup will be senior captain Ally Brzezinski. The 5-10 forward averaged 6.1 points and 2.3 rebounds a game last year. The four-year varsity player and three-year starter added 1.6 assists and 1.1 steals a game, too.
“She can play any position for us,” Troy Nelson said. “She’s a very smart player. She’s strong and we’ll need her to be a good rebounder for us.
“We’re asking all the kids to be able to do multiple things because we don’t have a lot of size. So we’ll need girls to play different roles than they are used to and Ally has had a really great start to practice this season."
The departure of Erika Lane and a season-ending injury to Olivia Tautges will put extra pressure on Myah Nelson and Brzezinski in terms of leadership.
“Myah will need to be more of a leader,” Troy Nelson said. “As a sophomore, you’re not looked at to be a leader when you have the juniors and seniors head of you. As you get older, that leadership role becomes more and more important.
“With Ally being a senior and a smart player, we really need her to be a leader, too.”
Lane chose to graduate high school a semester early so she could join the University of North Dakota women’s basketball team early. Lane was the second leading scorer off of last year’s team.
“She came in last year and had a very good year for us,” Nelson said. “She fit right in. She was a good teammate and had a very good year for us. We were looking forward to having another year with her. We’re happy for her and I wish her all the best. As I told her, we’re happy for her, but sad for us. We’re losing a big piece of our team, but hopefully, she has a lot of success.
“This is opening up opportunities for other kids who may not have gotten those opportunities this year.”
Hoping to fill that gap will be junior Meghan Smith. The 5-9 guard averaged 2.8 points and 1.5 rebounds last year.
“Meghan is really athletic. She’s got good hops and quickness. She anticipates well so we’re looking at her in some of those spots in our defense where we think she can cause some havoc and get some deflections and get out and run. She’s worked on her game and shot and that keeps improving for her.”
Junior Kylie Johnson will get her chance to shine on the varsity and will be needed to generate offense.
“Kylie really worked on her shot and her ball-handling,” Nelson said. “We’re looking for good things from her. She’ll be one of our better shooters. She’s more of a three-four, but she’ll probably have to play every backcourt position.”
Emma Tautges is a 5-10 junior forward who Nelson believes is ready to take the next step. The three-sport athlete will be asked to become a rebounder and defensive post stopper. Nelson also likes her range as a shooter.
Hillary Hoelz is a senior guard who Nelson believes will be another to handle the point when needed. Nelson said he appreciates how smart Hoelz is with the ball and her decision making.
Also finding time in the rotation will be sophomores Emma Sheflo and Iyana Pickar.
Along with being quick and efficient in transition, Nelson and his coaching staff have stressed ball-movement early in practice.
“We’re three practices in so far and I see that same ball movement we’ve had when we’ve been really good,” Nelson said. “The kids are looking for each other. They are taking their shots and attacking when the opportunity presents itself, but when those things are open they’ve done a nice job of finding their open teammates and setting screens to get others open.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.
Warrior Girls Basketball
Head coach: Troy Nelson, eighth season
Career record: 96-90 (.516)
2019-20 record: 11-5 CLC, 14-13 overall
Captains: Ally Brzezinski, Hillary Hoelz, Myah Nelson
Assistant coaches: Greg Gearey, Jolene Owen, Geoff Sheflo