Girls Basketball: 4 new starters will help Warriors reload
Brainerd Warriors open season Tuesday, Nov. 29 at Buffalo.
BRAINERD — While defense will be a strength, creating offense will be the goal for this year’s Brainerd Warriors.
Troy Nelson enters his 10th season as the head coach of the Warriors and is coming off his best season as the Warriors finished 21-6 overall. The Warriors were co-Central Lakes Conference Champions last season with a 12-2 record, but graduated all three all-conference players in Myah Nelson, Olivia Tautges and Meghan Smith. Brainerd picked up its first Section 8-4A victory under Nelson when it clipped Buffalo 41-39 in the quarterfinals before falling to Rogers in the section semifinals.
The Warriors graduated four starters and top bench player Kylie Johnson who accounted for 79% of the Warriors’ points from last year.
“I’m really excited and the staff is really excited,” Nelson said. “It brings a new challenge. We had the same kids for a number of years and it’s just a challenge of taking a new group that has different talents and seeing what they can do.
“There are things in our program that we’re going to always do. We’re going to run our man defense the way we run it. With our length and size, we will make a few adjustments here and there, too. I love the 1-3-1 (zone defense) so we won’t ever get rid of that and with our length, we might even be better at it at times. We will look at some different things defensively with the team we have coming, which might be better at things than the teams we’ve had in the past.
“Then on the offensive end, our motion offense, we’ve made a few tweaks to that. But we will be running some of the same set plays, but many other sets that wouldn’t have been successful for previous groups that we think will be for this group. Offense will be our challenge to start the season and we have been working on it a lot in the preseason. Trying to score is going to look different for us and we’re probably going to need to get the ball in the paint a lot more than we have in the past.”
Senior Kate Stadum is Brainerd’s top returning scorer with 162 points. Her main role last season was defense as she added 84 rebounds, 45 assists, 31 steals and 23 defensive tips.
“She comes in and we know what we’re going to get from Kate, but we also have challenged Kate that she is going to have to take on a different role for us this year and score more often,” Nelson said. “The past three years for her, she’s just needed to be that complimentary piece at the offensive end while being a defensive leader. This year, that’s not going to work for us. We need her to take a step and be more of a leader for us on the offensive end.
“We do feel like she has that skill and that ability to do that and she has shown the willingness and want to so far in practice. For four years we’ve seen the competitiveness from Kate. This summer we’ve seen her leadership quality and we know she’s going to have a great year.”
Junior AJ Johnson returns having scored 59 points last season to go with 44 rebounds, 13 assists and four steals.
“Last year, I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t sure if AJ could play varsity for us last year,” Nelson said. “As the season went along she just kept improving and kept improving. She’s super coachable. She’s a hard worker and is a great teammate. As the season went along, she just kept earning more minutes and she was one of our first players off the bench once we got into the playoffs.
“We’re looking for her to continue that growth and take the next step. She does have the ability to score. She does have the ability to shoot that outside shot and we’re looking for her to play within herself at the offensive end and not force things. We do think she’ll be able to help us offensively.”
Sophomore Mya Tautges is coming off a state swimming and diving meet. During last year’s basketball season she tallied 50 points to go with 80 rebounds, 48 assists, 17 steals and eight blocked shots.
“She walked into the gym on Saturday morning for practice, (less than 24 hours after competing in the Class 2A State swimming and diving finals) and a half hour in and we were like, ‘OK, Mya is back.’ She just has that natural ability to take over and do things other kids can’t do. Last year, we asked her to play defense. To get stops for us. To move the ball and get us through our sets. This year, I mean, she’s a super tall guard who is going to create mismatches and score in the paint and post up smaller guards and find those areas she can help us. We think she can have a great year for us.”
Sophomore post Karley Dunham will look to take on a bigger role as she brings back 14 points and 21 rebounds from her freshman campaign.
“Karley came off the for us last year and then got sick and missed some time,” Nelson said. “She is a super athletic kid. She is strong and physical. We think she’s going to do a really good job on the offensive end for us this year. Being able to score at that low block. She has a nice shot from 15 feet and even the 3-point line. After a year of practicing with the varsity and being on the varsity court, we’re looking for her to take a big step up.”
Senior Emma Sheflo and sophomores Ava Loney, Kylee Soens and Brook Sandberg will provide depth in the backcourt. Sheflo didn’t play basketball last season, but returns following a successful soccer season. Loney, Soens and Sandberg saw limited time last season.
“Emma is going to be playing defense for us and her quickness will allow us to be able to pressure a little more at times,” Nelson said. “Every day she keeps improving on the offensive end. She knows her next step is to get better at handling the ball and being more confident on the offensive end. If she can do that she can provide a spark for us this year.”
Senior Elianna Riley and eighth-grader Addison Bjorklund will handle the paint for the Warriors. Riley played in one varsity game last season. The 6-foot Bjorklund is the daughter of Brainerd boys’ all-time leading scorer Chris Bjorklund.
“Addison plays a position that we haven’t had a lot of in the past,” Nelson said. “She’s strong and tall and athletic. We kind of like what she’s able to do on the defensive end, especially with defending the post. Her post-up game and being able to finish in the paint is pretty special at times. We’re looking forward to her growing into a varsity role.”
Nelson said it’s been a struggle for the Warriors to get games. Brainerd picked up games with Perham and Detroit Lakes last season when St. Cloud Tech and Apollo combined. Those two games remain on the schedule.
The Warriors will also play Grand Rapids twice this season for the first time. The Warriors will play every section opponent except for St. Michael-Albertville. And in fact will face Elk River, Rogers and Buffalo within the first month of the season.
“The challenge is when you play those section teams early in the season when you’re young that it can come back to bite you come seeding time,” Nelson said. “When we get to playoffs, we’ll be a much different team than they have seen. Buffalo graduated most of their team so I think we’re in the same boat as them. Rogers has a new coach. Elk River has a new coach so I think a lot of us will be growing.
“I’m just hoping we come out and compete and get better and just build every day.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.
Warrior girls basketball
Head coach: Troy Nelson, 10th season
Career record: 130-102 (.560)
2019-20 record: 12-2 CLC, 21-6 overall
Captains: Kate Stadum, AJ Johnson
Assistant coaches: Greg Gearey, Ellen Thomes, Geoff Sheflo
Managers: Jera Petrie
Seniors: Kate Stadum, Malina Schiller, Emma Scheflo, Elianna Riley
Juniors: Kayli Dorn, Alyssa Schommer, Mallory Anderson, AJ Johnson
Sophomores: Ava Loney, Kylee Soens, Mya Tautges, Ana Bjorklund, Brook Sandberg, Karley Dunham, Joze Tautges
Freshmen: Allison Thomes, Cora Clough
Eighth-grader: Addison Bjorklund
Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Buffalo 7 p.m.
Dec. 1, vs. Willmar 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 2, at Rogers 7 p.m.
Dec. 8, vs. Sauk Rapids 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 15, at Rocori 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 20, at Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 22, vs. Bemidji 7:15 p.m.
Dec. 29, vs. Elk River 3 p.m.
Jan. 3, vs. Moorhead 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 7, at Grand Rapids 1 p.m.
Jan. 10, vs. St. Cloud Crush 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 13, at Sartell 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 14, vs. Detroit Lakes 6:30 p.m.
Jan. 17, at Perham 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 19, vs. Alexandria 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 20, at Bemidji 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 24, at Willmar 7:15 p.m.
Jan. 27, at Cambridge 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 2, at Sauk Rapids 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 4, vs. Grand Rapids 1 p.m.
Feb. 7, vs. Rocori 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 10, at Moorhead 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 14, vs. Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 16, at St. Cloud Crush 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 21, vs. Sartell 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 24, at Alexandria 7:15 p.m.