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Girls Basketball: Youthful Warriors hope to grow into contenders

Following four consecutive seasons with double-digit victory totals, including 17 wins the last two seasons, the Brainerd Warriors will reload this winter. The Warriors return just one starter--senior Courtney Russell--from a team that finished 1...

Brainerd's Courtney Russell shoots during practice Wednesday, Nov. 21, at Brainerd High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd's Courtney Russell shoots during practice Wednesday, Nov. 21, at Brainerd High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

 

Following four consecutive seasons with double-digit victory totals, including 17 wins the last two seasons, the Brainerd Warriors will reload this winter.

The Warriors return just one starter-senior Courtney Russell-from a team that finished 17-10 after losing to fifth-seeded Buffalo in the quarterfinals of the Section 8-4A tournament. Only three other players have played varsity minutes. Ten underclassmen populate the 13-player varsity roster.

"We've been spoiled the last couple years when we had a number of kids back that had varsity experience," Warriors head coach Troy Nelson said. "The flip side of that is it's exciting to have a new group of kids that we have to find a way to play that fits them, their excitement and their work ethic.

"All of our kids had a great first week (of practice). They're working really hard, they're having fun. The big thing we're looking for is growth. We're going through the process of getting better every day, trying not to worry about what the results are going to be, just keep getting better. By the end of the season hopefully the results are where we want them."

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Russell is the team's leading returning scorer with 137 points (5.1 average) in 27 games and 4.4 rebounds per game. Nelson said Russell is leading in practice and helping the younger, more inexperienced players.

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Brainerd Warriors

  • Head coach: Troy Nelson, sixth season
  • Career record: 71-62 (.534)
  • 2017-18 record: 10-5 CLC, 17-10 overall
  • Captains: Courtney Russell, Grace Zimmerman
  • Assistant coaches: Dylan Knipple, Greg Gearey, Wade Haapajoki, Jolene Owen

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"Courtney, in the past, has always led by example," Nelson said. "This year she's being asked to lead more vocally and she's doing a nice job of that. We didn't really need Courtney to score in the past. Everything she gave us was a bonus. She's always played great defense. She's always rebounded for us. She's always been the glue that held us together.

"We're challenging her to give us a little more. but still just play her game. With her experience, she's going to score more. She knows how to get to the rim. She knows how to play the game so well. We don't want to put any added pressure on her being the lone starter back. We're just asking her to play her game, do what she does, and that will be good enough."

Junior Grace Zimmerman, a captain along with Russell, is one of three underclassmen who earned varsity time last season. Junior Delaney Schaeffer and sophomore Ally Brezinski are the others.

Zimmerman played in 18 games, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds. She added five assists and eight steals.

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"Grace had a great offseason," Nelson said. "She's a vocal leader who put in a lot of time. She didn't play a fall sport this year so she spent a lot of time working on basketball. We're looking for her to take the next big step, be a contributor and a leader of our team."

Schaeffer, a 6-foot-2 post, played in four varsity games.

"Delaney's very athletic," Nelson said. "A lot of times girls that tall aren't as athletic and she has that. She's learning to become more aggressive. Her skills are coming along. We're hoping she can provide some good minutes in the post."

As a freshman, Brezinski played in 17 varsity games averaging 2.9 points and 2.0 rebounds. She added 11 assists and eight steals.

"We pulled her up and she learned how to play varsity basketball," Nelson said. "Ally was a good contributor. She had a very good offseason playing AAU and working on her game. We look for her to take the next step in her progression."

Senior Olivia Hoelz and junior Autumn Miles were on the section roster last season and spent the majority of the year on the junior varsity. Miles got into one varsity game.

Hoelz and Chayse Pickar are the other seniors in addition to Russell.

"Olivia's a great shooter," Troy Nelson said. "She grew about two or three inches in the offseason. She's working on her defense every day. She's working hard. She had a good first week of practice."

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Newcomers rounding out the varsity roster are Lilly Horn, Tae Evanson, Myah Nelson, Olivia Tautges, Lexi McElfresh and Meghan Smith.

"We're looking for Autumn, Lilly, Tae, Myah and Olivia early on to be contributors as we learn how to play together and we continue to grow into the team we're going to be," Troy Nelson said.

Brainerd, which won six of its last seven regular-season games in 2017-18 to earn the No. 4 seed in the section, hopes to contend in the Central Lakes Conference with Fergus Falls, Alexandria and Willmar expected to be the front-runners.

 

Roster

Seniors: Courtney Russell, Olivia Hoelz, Chayse Pickar

Juniors: Autumn Miles, Delaney Schaeffer, Grace Zimmerman

Sophomores: Lilly Horn, Ally Brzezinski, Tae Evanson

Freshmen: Myah Nelson, Meghan Smith, Lexi McElfresh, Olivia Tautges

 

Other varsity candidates:

Juniors: Kate Westerberg, Jada Borders, Jewell Aho, Cassidy Christenson

Sophomores: Hillary Hoelz, Haley Pickar

Freshmen: Emma Tautges, Kylie Johnson

 

Schedule

Tuesday, Nov 27, at Alexandria 7:15 p.m.

Thursday, Nov 29, at St. Cloud Apollo

Dec 4, at Moorhead 7:30 p.m.

Dec 6, at Sauk Rapids-Rice 7:15 p.m.

Dec 11, at Monticello 7 p.m.

Dec 13, Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m.

Dec 14, Buffalo 7:15 p.m.

Dec 18, Rogers 7:15 p.m.

Dec 20, at Chisago Lakes 6:30 p.m.

Dec 21, Cambridge-Isanti 7:15 p.m.

Jan 3, at Sartell 7:15 p.m.

Jan 5, at Zimmerman 3:30 p.m.

Jan 8, St. Cloud Tech 7:15 p.m.

Jan 11, Bemidji 7:15 p.m.

Jan 12, at Willmar 3 p.m.

Jan 17, Alexandria 7:15 p.m.

Jan 22, St. Cloud Apollo 7:15 p.m.

Jan 24, at Grand Rapids 7:15 p.m.

Jan 25, Sauk Rapids-Rice 7:15 p.m.

Jan 31, at Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m.

Feb 5, Moorhead 7:15 p.m.

Feb 8, Rocori 7:15 p.m.

Feb 12, at St. Cloud Tech 7:15 p.m.

Feb 14, Sartell 7:15 p.m.

Feb 19, Willmar 7:15 p.m.

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