Three athletes return with state experience, including two-time state entrants Izzy Olson and Brenna Deason, to a Brainerd Warriors roster stacked with experience.
Three other girls return from Brainerd’s section team that placed third in the Section 8-2A competition behind Sartell and St. Cloud. For those reasons and more, the Warriors should once again be a top tier team in both the Central Lakes Conference and section.
The dynamic duo of sophomores Olson and Deason will lead the Warriors this season. Both should handle all-around duties.
Olson advanced to state in the all-around where she placed 20th with a 36.7. She finished 29th on vault, 30th on bars, 28th on beam and 28th on floor at last year’s state meet.
“Those two definitely set the tone in our practices,” Warrior head coach Tessa Poorker said. “The other girls look up to those two and they both are very good teammates. They certainly have that state meet experience and both will look to get back again this year.”
Deason advanced to state on vault where she finished 22nd with a 9.4. She also advanced on floor where she placed 40th with a 9.175.
“Having athletes who have been to state in your practice room is a huge boost to the rest of the team,” Poorker said. “Both of those girls have such a great work ethic and the other girls see that and feed off of it.”
The other returning athlete with state meet experience is senior captain Kenna Smith. As a sophomore two years ago, Smith placed 43rd on floor with a 9.1375.
Last year in the section meet she placed 33rd on vault, 22nd on beam and 15th on floor.
“Kenna might not be doing vault for us this year,” Poorker said. “It’s kind of a sad deal, as she’s a great vaulter, but she has some back issues. We want to make sure she’s healthy as she graduates and can finish off her senior year. She will definitely be a huge contributor on floor and beam for us.
“We’ve got some potential areas to fill from last year and with the big depth of our team we’re excited to see who fills in those shoes.”
Potential vaulters for Brainerd this year will be Taylor Bordwell, Meghan Wirtz, senior captain Maddy Sedlachek and fellow senior captain Ella Hannah.
Sedlachek scored an 8.45 to finish 27th on beam in the section meet last year. She was 24th in the conference meet.
“Beam is kind of her focus,” Poorker said. “She has a love for that. We love her lines and form on beam. Her confidence has really risen over the last couple of years. Trying to switch out skills to see what we’re confident with and I think we’re to the point where she feels confident in what she is doing. We’re excited for her to stick as many beam routines as she can.”
Also competing in the section meet was sophomore Josie Harguth who posted a 23rd-place score of 7.925 on bars and a 24th-place 8.525 on beam. She was 12th on bars in the conference meet and 17th on beam.
“For one, we just love Josie’s attitude,” Poorker said. “She’s always having fun and encouraging her teammates and that says a lot because it can be frustrating at times. She is just so fun to be around.
“Skill-wise, beam she is looking very solid. We’re going to have her on bars as well and then she is going to be a potential varsity candidate for floor.”
Senior captain Elle Bruggeman placed 19th on vault during last year’s section meet. She scored an 8.125. In the CLC meet, Bruggeman was 20th on vault.
“Elle did a lot of offseason training and you can see her body is ready for the competitiveness of the season,” Poorker said. “It’s just such a weird season so we’re just trying to get comfortable as quickly and safely as we can. Her offseason work has allowed her to come in right where she left off last season.
“We look to her for being one of our top vaulters as well as a bar worker. She does floor for us and it will depend on some skills where she lands for that.”
Haley Jones competed on bars during the conference meet where she placed 26th with a 7.95.
“Ever since I took over four years ago, my biggest challenge is I don’t have enough spots for all the girls who deserve one,” Poorker said. “Our depth every year has just grown. It’s good. I wouldn’t want it any other way, but it’s a challenge. The girls know what they need to do. They know what I look for in the lineup. They also know I reward hard work and try to give opportunities when I can, but with a team of 28, it will be challenging.
“For away meets, we won’t be able to bring everyone due to restrictions so that’s also going to be a challenge to make sure everyone feels that they are contributing to the team in one way or another.”
Poorker said her main concerns with the season is safety and health of her athletes. She did say she was impressed with how her athletes have adapted to the new policies and practice restrictions faced because of COVID-19.
“Imagine flipping in mats,” Poorker said. “It is weird. I can barely walk in on so the fact that they’re all adapting is great. I’m looking forward to making sure the seniors have as memorable of a season as possible. This is the craziest season that we’re ever going to have and they get to lead it.”
One of the big issues for gymnastics is practice times. Because gymnastics lineups often change from competition to competition it’s hard for Poorker to split her squad into varsity and junior varsity athletes. Plus, she’s working with three different school districts in Brainerd and the cooperative school districts of Crosby-Ironton and Pequot Lakes.
“We’re trying really hard to feel like a family,” Poorker said. “We’re leaving messages for the other groups."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.
Head coach: Tessa Poorker, fourth season (13-9 career record)
2019-20 record: 4-2 in CLC, 5-3 overall, fourth in CLC meet, third in Section 8-2A
Returning state participant: Brenna Deason, Izzy Olson
Captains: Elle Bruggeman, Maddy Sedlachek, Kenna Smith, Olivia Stirewalt, Ella Hannah
Assistant coaches: Jessica Lofrano-Larson, Megan Ostendorf