Girls Soccer: A 30-game win streak at stake for Warriors
The news of an all Central Lakes Conference schedule was a bit disheartening for the Brainerd Warriors.
Last year, the Warriors struggled against Section 8-2A opponents and were hoping for redemption. That won’t happen this season. Instead they’ll have to build on their 30-game conference winning streak as Brainerd has dominated the CLC for the past four seasons.
“I think this will be the hardest the conference has ever been because we’re adding Moorhead and Bemidji to it,” Warriors head coach Grant Gmeinder said. “I think our kids are excited for the challenge. We had to temper expectations a little bit, but when they heard ‘conference only’ they were a little disappointed because they wanted to play St. Michael-Albertville. They really wanted to play Elk River. That’s who they’ve measured themselves against these past four or six years.
“This will be a more competitive year for the conference. Alexandria will be better. Sartell will be better because they went through a bunch of injuries last year. We’ll see a lot more competitive games. Our kids are excited to play competitive games and my expectations are for us to do as well as we do every year. That’s what we’re trying to build here.”
Finding offense will be the first priority for the Warriors who saw Gabbie Smith, Josie Kramer and Emma Smith graduate and with them 45 of the 66 goals the Warriors scored last year.
“It will be interesting to try to replace that and we think we have kids who are ready to fill those rolls,” Gmeinder said. “Mari Devine was our third leading scorer last year so I think she’ll carry a heavy load for us. Then we’re really excited to see Ally Weldon, who was a really talented junior forward, who didn’t get to play a lot because there were a bunch of seniors in front of her. Then Emma Sheflo and Lexi McElfresh, we’re excited to see what those two younger kids can do. They’ll step up this year because we’re asking more of them. We’re interested in finding out what type of heavy load they can carry in terms of scoring and creating goals.
“Emma has a very similar game to both Gabbie and Josie and I think she learned a lot from those two. I think, stylistically, we’ll try and create similar chances for Emma like we did with Gabbie and Josie. Ally and Lexi are two totally different players with different styles. The way they play will be different.”
Devine tallied seven goals and seven assists last season. Sheflo went for three goals and four assists, while McElfresh tallied two goals and four assists. Weldon scored three goals for Brainerd.
Other returning goal scorers are Avery LeMieur with her four goals and one assist and Taylor Larson who posted a goal and three assists. Those two will roam the midfield where Gmeinder believes the Warriors will have the advantage in most games.
“We’re bringing back almost our entire midfield other than Abby Klecker,” Gmeidner said. “Mari was a midfielder last year, but we’ll slide her up, but we’re bringing back Avery, Taylor and Olivia Tautges. Those are juniors and seniors who are really athletic and skilled kids.
“I think our midfield is so competitive in the way that they play. They just compete for every ball and those are kids who are successful in soccer as well as softball and hockey and basketball. They’re just successful in whatever they do.”
The Warriors allowed just 14 goals last season thanks to a tough defense and All-Conference honorable mention play from last year’s goalie Shayla Makowski-Budrow. The Warriors shutout six of its 16 opponents.
“Our defense is going to be strong again,” Gmeinder said. “We lost Ariana Jensen, who was kind of the leader back there, but everyone else is back. Kayla Bush, being a senior captain his year, she’s excited about this year. She is just so athletic and so talented. Then Molly Hagelie, her stepping in as a second-year starter, those two will be really solid back there.
“Then we’re kind of filling in the pieces. We’re working it in. Lexi was a two-year starter at defense and now she’ll be more of an attacker. Two kids that we see right now are Cally Robertson and Emma Balsley filling in for now.”
The past four seasons the Warriors have enjoyed Molly Rudolph and Makowski-Budrow in net. This year, the Warriors will go with a bit of unknown.
“Right now we have Gracelyn Dickinson and Peyton LeMieur who are still kind of competing for that starting role,” Gmeinder said. “We’re really excited about both of them and the development they’ve made from last year. It’s been a really good competition in practice so far and we’re interested to see who takes the reins.”
That’s been the identity of the entire team this preseason, said Gmeidner, who enters his seventh year as head coach. The Warriors finished 10-0 in the conference and 11-4-1 overall. He expects nothing less this year.
“So far I’ve seen the identity of this team being more about effort than anything else,” Gmeidner said. “That’s not to downplay the skill we have because we have plenty of skill coming back. I think we’ve just seen in this first week that this is a hard-working group and it's a competitive group. They just give effort the majority of time. They aren’t jogging. They give all-out effort all of the time.”
Seniors: Hailey Nelson, Taylor Larson, Mari Devine, Kayla Bush, Noelle Youngquist, Allyson Weldon
Juniors: Emma Tautges, Nikki Nix, Lexi McElfresh, Avery LeMieur, Olivia Tautges
Sophomores: Gracelyn Dickinson, Emma Sheflo, Emma Balsley, Allie Dwyer, Gabby Eckman, Cally Robertson, Molly Hagelie
Freshmen: Peyton LeMieur, Molly Pohlkamp
Thursday, Aug. 27: at Fergus Falls 7 p.m.
Sept. 1, hosts Sartell 7 p.m.
Sept. 2, at Rocori 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 8: at St. Cloud Apollo 7 p.m.
Sept. 11: hosts Sauk Rapids 7 p.m.
Sept. 15: hosts St. Cloud Tech 7 p.m.
Sept. 17: at Willmar 7 p.m.
Sept. 22: hosts Bemidji 7 p.m.
Sept. 25: at Moorhead 5 p.m.
Sept. 29: hosts Alexandria 7 p.m.
Oct. 8: TBD
Warrior girls soccer
Head coach: Grant Gmeinder, seventh season
2019 finish: 10-0 CLC, 11-4-1 overall
Career record: Career 77-21-3 (.762 )
Captains: Kayla Bush, Mari Devine, Taylor Larson
Assistant coaches: Alexandria Hirsch, Mike Weissenfluh, Emily Monda, Nick Weeks