Ally Brzezinski was off her usual game Friday, Jan. 15.
And it worked out in the Brainerd Warriors' favor as the defensive stalwart turned into an offensive juggernaut to lead the girls' basketball team to a 69-66 season-opening victory over the Bemidji Lumberjacks at Brainerd High School.
Brzezinski was 7-of-10 shooting from the field and 7-8 from the line to post a game-high 23 points.
“It was great,” Warriors head coach Troy Nelson said. “When she hits those shots it pulls the defenders a little bit closer to her. We had a lot of layups and driving lanes open up when she was able to shoot like that. We got some nice easy buckets for other kids then.
“In practice, you see that from Ally a lot. Then in a game, the game flow is such that she isn’t able to do that so it was really nice to see the game kind of go the way we wanted and for her to take advantage of those opportunities when they came up. If she can score every night it’s going to make things easier for our younger kids to come along and grow throughout the early parts of the season.”
Scoring normally isn’t Brzezinski’s forte., but the 5-foot-10 senior captain enjoyed it.
“It was weird because I’m not known as a big scorer,” Brzezinski said. “I’m more known for my defense and everything. Since we lost Erika Lane and Olivia Tautges can’t play, we needed more people to step up and go out there and make some shots. Hitting the first few shots definitely helps with your confidence. Knowing that you can make shots and help the team is really fun.”
Brzezinski added five rebounds, two assists, one deflection, one steal and a block in her first game. It’s all those little things that make her so valuable to a young Warrior roster.
“She came out and played defense the way she always does,” Nelson said. “She rebounded and was a great vocal leader and those are things she has done throughout her career. The big thing, though, she was confident in taking her shots and they were falling for her. She never forced anything. She let the game come to her and knocked down those open shots.
“She is so smart. She can play 1-5 in any set. She can play any spot in any defense, which, when you’re putting different lineups out there, it’s so nice to have that kid you can just put wherever you need them and they can do it at a high level.
“Then just that energy on the defensive end. She makes it hard on the other team’s top players or getting deflections and steals and getting us out in transition. We’re not a very big team, but leading us in rebounding and you could kind of see our whole team followed her. We boxed out and we outrebounded them. We were super aggressive on the boards.”
Brzezinski is a four-year varsity player and three-year starter. Her experience and versatility are also keys. Last season, she averaged 6.1 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. She added 44 assists, 29 steals, 70 deflections and three blocked shots. She shot 37.3% from the field and 60% from the line.
“I definitely do take a lot of pride in my defense,” Brzezinski said. “I love defense. It’s my favorite thing. Going out there and getting stops and getting assists and helping other girls on the team get their shots. I definitely take pride in what I do out there.”
She’s also taking pride in being a leader for a young squad.
“I’m more experienced but I was a little nervous, which I was kind of surprised about going out there for the first game, but I just had to be a good leader being a captain and being on the team for so long. I know what we’re expected to do and what we have to deal with. I was just being a leader out there and making sure everyone kept their heads up and forgetting about the bad plays. I just have to make sure everyone stays positive and goes out there and does what we need to do and we got the win.”
A captain. A defensive stopper and now an offensive threat, whatever role Brzezinski plays she doesn’t care. She’s just happy she gets to play.
“The fact that we got to play our first game and I get to have a senior season really means a lot,” Brzezinski. “It was a little scary there for a little bit not knowing if we were going to be able to go out there and play. Just to get to have the opportunity, masks or not, is really nice.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop
Career highlight: Beating Alexandria during my sophomore year at home.
Grade-point average: 3.83
Favorite class: Interior design
Favorite food: Ice cream
Favorite movie: “Miracle”
Favorite TV show: “Grey’s Anatomy”
Favorite website or app: TikTok
Favorite restaurant: Buffalo Wild Wings
Future plans: Attend college and major in nursing
Favorite athlete: Kobe Bryant
Parents: Brian and Stacey Brzezinski
Other notable performances
Griffin Rushin, boys basketball, scored 30 points in a season-opening loss to Sartell and then dropped 28 against Alexandria.
Molly Pohlkamp, girls hockey, scored two goals as the Warriors beat St. Cloud and lost to Roseau.
Isaiah Jillson, wrestling, finished 4-0 with three pins and a technical fall last week.
Gabe Wagner, wrestling, finished 4-0 with three pins and a decision last week.
Kyle Eschenbacher, finished 4-0 with two pins and two decisions last week.