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High School Volleyball: New coach hoping to change culture

Brainerd Warriors Head coach: Rick Kuehlwein, 19th year (first at Brainerd, 18 at Cretin-Derham Hall) Career record: 394-126 2016 Brainerd finish: 2-10 CLC, 8-24 overall Returning starters: Cara Helgeson, Lillee Hardee, Courtney Russell, Avery Ec...

Brainerd Warrior volleyball captains Cara Helgeson (left) Courtney Russell and Lillee Hardee practice this week at the Brainerd High School gym. The Warriors open their season at home Thursday night against Pequot Lakes. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd Warrior volleyball captains Cara Helgeson (left) Courtney Russell and Lillee Hardee practice this week at the Brainerd High School gym. The Warriors open their season at home Thursday night against Pequot Lakes. Steve Kohls/ Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd Warriors

Head coach: Rick Kuehlwein, 19th year (first at Brainerd, 18 at Cretin-Derham Hall)

Career record: 394-126

2016 Brainerd finish: 2-10 CLC, 8-24 overall

Returning starters: Cara Helgeson, Lillee Hardee, Courtney Russell, Avery Eckman

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Captains: Helgeson, Hardee, Russell

Assistant coaches: Nate Eckman, Carla Stall (JV), Shelley Kennedy (freshmen), Angela Jelinski (freshmen), Dawn Genz (sophomores)

As is the case whenever a coaching change occurs, the new coach is given leeway to implement a few changes.

Rick Kuehlwein, who comes to Brainerd from Cretin-Derham Hall, where he guided the Raiders to two Class 3A state tournaments in 18 years at the St. Paul school, hopes to instill a winning atmosphere in the program and tweak the Warriors' conditioning.

"There's a culture change," Kuehlwein said. "Culture change starts in practice and in training, more intense with a quicker pace. We're in the weight room two to three times a week focusing on core strength, speed and quickness."

Kuehlwein is collaborating with coaches of other Warrior girls programs like soccer, hockey, basketball and softball, hoping to elevate the level of competitiveness in their respective programs.

"I think there's kind of a belief that we can all do it together to get that sense of community-one team, one mission, one community, among all the girls (sports)," he said.

Brainerd returns four starters from last year's team that finished 2-10 in the Central Lakes Conference, 8-24 overall. The delegation includes seniors Cara Helgeson and Lillee Hardee, junior All-Central Lakes Conference player Courtney Russell and freshman Avery Eckman.

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"I think we're in pretty good shape as far as building for the future," Kuehlwein said. "I hate the word building. I use the term reloading. I like to think it will be the same way up here. The kids have bought into the system, they're energetic, anxious to learn. We're going at a very quick pace.

"We had a scrimmage last week where we saw Moorhead (ranked No. 9 in 3A), Alexandria, Bemidji, St. Cloud Tech and Apollo, Rocori. If we play our game, we can compete with anyone. We have a chance in every match we're going to. I can tell you that honestly. Whether we win or not, I can't tell you. It comes down to ball control. Our serve receive has been weak in the past. There's certainly room for improvement.

"I'm not sure we're ready for our first match against Pequot Lakes (at home Thursday, Aug. 24). I know they beat us last year. We're excited to start."

Helgeson, Hardee and Russell are the captains.

"It was tough for me to pick out captains this year because I had a volleyball camp in the Twin Cities through the summer," Kuehlwein said. "I made 9-10 open gyms up here. I didn't pick captains until the last week of July after I got to know the kids a little bit.

"Cara and Lillee both showed up to all the open gyms. They showed the character I'm looking for in a captain. Courtney is an underclassman. She leads by example. How those three do will determine basically how we do as a team."

A position-by-position look at the Warriors:

Setter

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Helgeson returns along with junior Kealy Johnson.

"Cara will be leading the charge this year," Kuehlwein said. "She has a lot of senior leadership, as does Kealy as a junior.

"We will run a 6-2 offense, we could change to a 5-1 at times, but right now we'll start out with a 6-2."

Hitter

Middle hitters include Hardee, senior Kelsey Stroot and sophomore Delaney Schaeffer. At 6-foot-1, Schaefer's the team's only 6-foot player.

Outside hitters are led by Russell and sophomore Avery Eckman who started as a freshman. Freshman Madi Genz is competing for playing time.

Kuehlwein said senior Sophia Urbaniak and Kealy Johnson are in competition to be the right-side hitter.

"Kealy also could play right side in front when she's not setting," he said. "Cara will probably not leave the floor and be a right-side hitter when she's in the front. Senior Jadin Schiller could also see time in the front row."

Defensive specialist/libero

Battling for the defensive specialist/libero spot are juniors Ellie Peabody and Jenna Meyer and senior Kimberly Hall.

"All three seem to be neck and neck right now," Kuehlwein said.

He said senior outside hitters/defensive specialists Kennedie Schermer and Madison Langley are capable of filling in where needed.

"They're learning the game as seniors," he said. "They know their roles, they're contributing right now, learning better ball handling skills."

Warriors roster

Seniors: Kimberly Hall, DS/L; Cara Helgeson, S; Lillee Hardee, MH; Sophia Urbaniak, RS; Kennedie Schermer, DS/OH; Jadin Schiller, RS/DS; Kelsey Stroot, MH; Madison Langley, OH/DS

Juniors: Courtney Russell, OH; Jenna Meyer, L/DS; Eleanor Peabody, L/RS; Kealy Johnson, S/RS

Sophomores: Avery Eckman, OH; Delaney Schaeffer, MH/RS

Freshman: Madison Genz, OH

Schedule

Aug 24, Pequot Lakes 7 p.m.

Aug 31, at Willmar 7 p.m.

Sept 7, at Fergus Falls 7 p.m.

Sept 9, at Sauk Rapids Tournament 9 a.m.

Sept 12, at Alexandria 7 p.m.

Sept 14, Rocori 7 p.m.

Sept 18, St. Cloud Tech 7 p.m.

Sept 19, at St. Cloud Apollo 7 p.m.

Sept 21, at Bemidji 7 p.m.

Sept 26, at Sartell 7 p.m.

Sept 28, Sauk Rapids-Rice 7 p.m.

Oct 3, Willmar 7 p.m.

Oct 10, Fergus Falls 7 p.m.

Oct 12, Alexandria 7 p.m.

Oct 14, Brainerd Tournament at Forestview Middle School 9 a.m.

Oct 17, at Rocori 7 p.m.

Related Topics: BRAINERD WARRIORS
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