Athletics: Deason, Hoelzel vault into Warrior lore

The Brainerd Warriors Athletic Department held it's All-Sports Banquet Monday, May 1.

Brenna Deason and Gavin Hoelzel  athletes of the year.
Brenna Deason and Gavin Hoelzel were named Brainerd Warrior Athletes of the Year Monday, May 1, 2023, at the Brainerd Warrior All-Sports Banquet in the Brainerd High School gymnasium.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — Prior to learning they were the Brainerd Warriors Male and Female Athletes of the Year, there was a good chance Brenna Deason and Gavin Hoelzel were already soaring through the air.

That’s because both are state-qualifying pole vaulters and were at track and field practice before the 48th Annual Brainerd Warrior All-Sports Banquet Monday, May 1, at Brainerd High School.

Hoelzel is a 10-time letterwinner in Alpine skiing and track and field.

“When they said slopes I figured they were talking about me,” Hoelzel said when he knew he had won the award. I heard things mentioned and they all sounded like high-achieving athletes and those deserving of the award. When I heard the world slopes though, it’s so distinct and we’re the only sport that has that. That’s when I realized it’s me they are talking about.”

Hoelzel admitted he thought someone else was going to win the award and he was prepared to be happy for them. He said whoever won the award would be deserving.


“It was this heart-pounding, ‘oh my gosh this is really happening’ kind of thing,” Hoelzel said. “It was almost an out-of-body surreal moment, but it was really gratifying and amazing.”
Brainerd head boys track and field coach Rod Reuer described Hoelzel like this: “He is the complete student-athlete. During my career, he is one of the few athletes that I have coached that represents each of the core values of the Warrior Athletic Department to the ultimate degree. He is virtually at the top in each category. He is a champion in the classroom, arts, and athletics. He is the ultimate team player, always caring and supporting his teammates, doing what is needed for the team and always showing class and respect toward his competitors. He is a true ‘Warrior’.”

Hoelzel was a leader in academics, arts and athletics and because of that, he was Brainerd’s representative for the Triple A award.

Gavin Hoelzel clears the bar in the pole vault.
Gavin Hoelzel clears the bar in the pole vault Tuesday, April 18, 2023, at the Brainerd Invite track and field meet at Adamson Field.
Steve Kohls / brainerd Dispatch

Last spring, Hoelzel advanced to the Class 3A State Track and Field Meet for the pole vault. He is currently tied for 13th on the Warrior Honor Roll list for pole vault with a personal best 12-foot-7 effort. Hoelzel also runs the 300-meter hurdles and last season competed on two relays.

He led Brainerd to a program-best fourth-place finish in the 2022 State Alpine ski meet. He was two spots away from earning All-State honors. He was named the team MVP as a junior and this year as a senior.

“He is the definition of a proven leader,” Warrior head Alpine ski coach Jim Ruttger said. “He has all of the qualities we value as an athlete, team captain, student and school leader. His achievements have already earned him other awards. No one has worked harder on our team over the past four years to gain strength and improve his skills. His skill progression has earned him numerous podium finishes and the respect, not only from his teammates but also from his competitors around our region. As a two-year team captain, he takes charge and sets the bar, both in the weight room and on the slopes. His leadership extends beyond athletics, where he excels in band and is also the president of the student council.”

Deason figured out they were talking about her leading up to the announcement when the phrase ‘silent leader” was spoken.

“I never expect anything,” Deason said. “It was very surprising for me. It means quite a bit because I’ve just worked really hard. I didn’t even know about this award until last year. I’ve just always supportive person and I’ve just always supported others. I don’t really care about awards. I just want to be the best person and athlete inside and out.”

Deason broke onto the Warrior athletic scene as an eighth grader. She advanced to her first state gymnastics meet that year and then quickly turned heads on the track helping Brainerd’s 4x100 and 4x200 relays to state as well as qualifying for the 100-meter dash.


She is the school record holder in the 100 dash with a 12.22 set last year. Both of those relays in 2019 are record holders. She also is part of the second, third and sixth fastest relay teams in the 4x100 relay and the third fastest 4x200 relay. She is also the school record holder in the pole vault with an 11-foot-3 effort in 2022.

She is No. 5 on the Warrior honor roll for the 200 dash.

Brenna Deason winning the 100 Meter dash.
Brenna Deason races to the finish line during the 100-meter dash Tuesday, April 18, 2023, at Adamson Field.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“She is a quiet leader whose competitive edge inspires teammates and fellow competitors,” Brainerd head girls’ track and field coach Ashley Rutman said. “As an eighth grader, she created excitement and energy on our team. There has always been a buzz that's followed her. She is gritty and never satisfied. Mentally and physically she consistently delivers.”

Those two early state appearances started a trend that includes three Class 2A state diving appearances, including last fall’s 15th-place finish, four state gymnastics appearances and what will likely be her fourth state track and field appearance this spring.

“She is certainly one of the best to ever compete in our program,” Brainerd head girls swimming and diving coach Dan Anderson said. “For the past four years, she has been a huge contributor to our program as she consistently was one of the top athletes in both the conference and the section.”

After Deason’s eighth-grade state appearance in gymnastics, she has gone to state in every season she has competed minus the COVID-19 seasons. She has earned 13 letters in her athletic career.

“She has been a strong competitor and an asset to our team's competitive line-up since her eighth-grade season,” Warriors head gymnastics coach Jessica Lofranio-Larson said. “During that time she's been a role model for her teammates and led by example through her work ethic in and outside of the gym. She helped lead workouts, helped other athletes perfect their routines and skills and really devoted herself to being the best captain and leader that she could be.”

Brainerd pole vaulting coach Robb Kolodziej works with both Hoelzel and Deason during the track and field season. He has a unique perspective on both athletes.


“They are both pretty unique kids,” Kolodziej said. “I’ve been around coaching for a long time and both of them take a pretty unique approach to preparing themselves and they both work really hard. Gavin is in the top of his class in academics as well. Both of them have a pretty detailed approach to everything they do. If they’re going to do it, they do it all the way. They’re all in. In terms of work ethic, they’re both phenomenal.

“They both have a great attitude when it comes to failure, which I think is becoming a rare thing. Kids today want to see success immediately and have a really hard time dealing with failure. Both of these kids revel in failure. They don’t enjoy it, but they enjoy the idea that if you don’t do it right you won’t succeed. They have that mentality of proper preparation and the idea that failure is tied to that. You’re going to fail some days, both of them fail in practice regularly and some days they walk away shaking their heads and mad, but they show up the next day and go ‘I can’t fail every day.’ That attitude is going to carry both of them well beyond high school.”

Along with the Athlete of the Year awards, the 2023 Warrior Athletic Hall of Fame class was inducted. The list included Chad Weiss, Walter Engbretson, Ellen Fussy, Sara Wennerstrand and Dave Herath.

The Bud Schmid Assistant Coach of the Year went to Dan Egan of the boys’ tennis program.

The Silent Warriors awards were handed to Jason and Tracy Atwater from the adapted floor hockey team, Steve Hanson from the baseball team, Tracy Kennedy from the tennis team and Jen Stadum from the volleyball program.

The Erwin Thiesse Award was given to Bill Bailey.

“This event means a lot,” Deason said. “This event brought up so much of my past. I’ve worked so hard for it over the years. It’s kind of crazy how fast it goes. Looking back on it, I have so many memories that I’m going to have forever and I’m never going to forget. It just means a lot to me and looking back at things it’s crazy how fast time flies. This means a lot.”

Brainerd Warriors Hall of Fame

2023: Chad Weiss, Sara Wennerstrand, Ellen Fussy, Dave Herath, Walter Engbretson

2022: Rod Reuer, Lisa Salo, Madison Smith, Kelly Rosenthal, Florian “Slats” Fairbanks

2021: No inductees

2020: COVID-19

2019: Jim Gogolin, Tyler Jensen, Heather Kappes-Vulin, Keith Peterson, Kelsi (Ring) Brusehaver, Dan Whirley

2018: Colby Ring, Samantha Smith, Hilary (Dahlen) Smith, Mark Tuchscherer, Kyle Crocker, Jeff Ramey

2017: Tom Lyscio, Sarah (Houle) Oehrlein, Christina Roberts, Kurt King, Colin MacDonald

2016: Kelly (Smith) Green, Jared Anderson, Brent Stark, Gerald Blanck

2015: Mike Zauhar Sr., Abby Rehberger, Brock Larson, Diane Peterson

2014: Carl Sneep, Justin Tyner, Geri Skogen, Sarah Bogenschutz Whiting, Scott Parsons

2013: John Backlund, John Ward, Mike Weiss, Corinn Severson Wengel

2012: Shaun Kennedy, Lisa Renneke, Justin Grunewald, Chet Stevenson

2011: Megan Arns Adams, Darec Liebel, Chris Studer, Mike Bialka

2010: Delinda Blanck Rood, Bruce Thompson, Luke Weiland, Michael Zauhar, Andy Pickar

2009: Rick Hansen, Lindsay Lewis-Beers, Darla Magtibay, John Mathews

2008: Wade Haapajoki, Sarah (Northway) Maria, Dale Jensen, Jim Hunt, Marni (Lundbohm) George

2007: Chris Bjorklund, Chris Studer, Heather (Anderson) Hansen, Len Byzewski, Maynard Ketterling

2006: Katy Johnston, Chris French, Kim Johnson Kirk, Mark Embretson, Steve Nunnink

2005: Ron Stolski, Dave Maras, Lowell Scearcy

2004: Jade O’Brien, Brian Day, Amy Schmitz Lelwica, Jennifer Imsande, Rob Graham

2003: Keith Bartholomaus, Justin Kieffer, Jaime Mueller, Julie Beasley, Carl Englert, Al Stier

2002: Tim Veith, Mike Musty, Tracey (Brown) Malone, Jayna Mathieu, Glenn Herman

2001: Margit (Rinke) Higgins, Bill McCollough, Jim Baillif, Mary (Houle) Streiff, Jon Haapajoki, C.R. “Russ” Fitzsimmons

2000: Shelly Breen, Turena Johnson Lane, Todd Revenig, Rick Sweet, Bob Waxlax

1999: Ron Falenschek, Bob Gross, Willy Severson, Trend Fields, Darlys Every

1998: Rod Skoog, Todd Vanek, Lehtitia Moilanen, Don Adamson

1997: Arnold “Casey” Stengel, Keith Moilanen, Merv Jensen, Christa (Brown) Hayes, Dave Monkman

1996: Dennis Stamp, Gary Borg, Jennifer Knippel, Jim Kuelbs

1995: Steve Wessman, Joe Vrudny, Cindy Clough, Rob Veith.

1994: Mark Jensen, Cleon Peterson, Dawn Clabo, Jim Caughey, Fritz Bierhaus, Sandy Smith.

1993: Bob Alderman, Mike Morgan, Rick Hjelm, Mark Mathews, Gene Hansen, Kay Weiss.

1992: Gail (Dailey) Helmer, Chuck Miller, Glen Gustafson, Jeff Smith.

1991: Bruce Gross, Bud Eiden, Ron Chisholm, Dick Lagergren.

1990: Randy Hansen, Paul Vrudny, Nina Borgwarth, Barry Sorensen, Ron “Gup” Hess.

1989: Ramona (Rugloski) Hjerpe, Jim Gardner, Jerry Lyscio, James “Pinky” Boyd, Charles Warnberg, Leonard “Ole” Howard, Bill Maxe.

1988: Elliot Whoolery, Fran Hedner, Roger Adair, Frank “Bud” Little, William McComas, Ken Wasnie, Bill Laumann.

1987: Darien DeRocher, Bob Rofidal, Jim Fitzharris, Jim Guin, Gaylord Lyscio, Harvey Shew.

1986: Bob Miller, Lloyd “Bud” Schmid, Loren Thompson, Jim Brown, Tony Veith, Francis “Babe” Anderson, Wayne Caughey.

1985: Gene Bierhaus, Fred Kellett, Kermit Aase, Jim Wallace, Bill Selisker, Jim Smith, Kathleen (Borgwarth) Reynolds, Jon Jelacic, Meyer “Whitey” Skoog, Jerry Hill, Ben Taylor, Dale Brown, William “Hoop” Smith, Tom Heikkenen.

Warriors Athletes of Year

2023: Brenna Deason, Gavin Hoelzel

2022: Olivia Tautges, Thomas Ruhl

2021: Emma Storbakken, Max Lewica

2020: Gabbie Smith, Owen Davis

2019: Olivia King, Braden Kramer

2018: Regan McElfresh, Jack Evans

2017: Allyson Smith, Cole Kubesh

2016: Maddie Ellingson, Chris Pederson

2015: Jenna Degen, Lydia Herath, David Supinski

2014: Sara Wennerstrand, Cole Smith, Grant Reuer

2013: Allison Kosobud, Marcus Comstock

2012: Chelsie Manton, Tommy Olson

2011: Katy Etterman, Tyler Kohlmeier

2010: Kelsi Ring, Madison Smith, Kyle Crocker

2009: Jared Anderson, Thomas Ruttger, Samantha Smith

2008: Jess Bye, Bronson Shepherd, Tom Lyscio

2007: Justin Tyner, Robyn Wernberg

2006: Carl Sneep, Aani Rangen

2005: Chris Woodard, Ally Hartje, Taylor Hartje, Hilary Smith

2004: Megan Arns, Christina Roberts, Justin Grunewald

2003: Katie Diiro, Andy Pickar

2002: Megan Steiger, Cori Severson, Mike Zauhar

2001: Lisa Renneke, Trevor McCulloch

2000: Marni Lundbohm, Mitch Feierabend

1999: Jared Reese, Joel Clough, Katie Johnson

1998: Mark Tuchscherer, Emily Hadland, Katy Johnston

1997: Lindsay Lewis, Dan Whirley

1996: Jade O’Brien, Mindy Walker

1995: Wade Haapajoki, Justin Kieffer, Jayna Mathieu

1994: Jaime Mueller, Tim Kidder

1993: Turena Johnson, Margit Rinke, Chris Heitkamp

1992: Shelly Breen, Al Stier

1991: Julie Beasley, Keith Bartholomaus

1990: Stephanie Jones, Jason Heitkamp, Todd Vanek

1989: Angie Moudry, Darec Liebel

1988: Amy Schmitz, Mike Musty

1987: Jennifer Knippel, Mike Headlee

1986: Judy Bialka, Sandy Smith

1985: Sherri Kappes, Steve Gohl

1984: Carla Link, Kurt Muesing, Jon Stolski

1983: Nina Borgwarth, Joe Vrudny

1982: Ramona Rugloski, Rob Veith

1981: Darla Magtibay, Mark Mathews

1980: Lehtitia Moilanen, Barry Sorensen

1979: Dawn Clabo, Craig Holm

1978: Kathleen Borgwarth, Gail Dailey, Bruce Rimmereid

1977: Sue Miller, Tony Veith

1976: Kathy Schultz, Bob Jensen

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at


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