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Warriors Athlete of Week: Walkowiak has Warriors in prime playoff position

Keaton Walkowiak helped the Brainerd Warriors to the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Section 8-3A playoffs.

Boy kicking a soccer ball.
Brainerd Warrior Keaton Walkowiak takes command of the ball during soccer practice Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, at Adamson Field.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD -- They weren’t supposed to be this good.

Talk concerning this season’s Brainerd Warriors boys’ soccer team was less than enthusiastic or optimistic. And perhaps rightfully so. The Warriors didn’t return any big-time goal scorers and the defensive unit was a complete remodel. What many didn’t consider was the importance of a strong leader.

Brainerd head coach Tom Grausam did. It’s why he named Keaton Walkowiak as one of his captains along with Kalvin Stengrim, Cullen Davis and Kyle Duff.

“He’s really vocal on the field,” Grausam said. “He’s a hard worker during practice and on the field. He understands the game and his position very well. He relates to the players. He’s just a well-rounded person.

“He organized our captains' practices. He does a lot after school with the kids. He was a natural leader. He took charge of things and he’s just like a big-time director.”

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The senior midfielder didn’t disappoint. He helped Brainerd to a 9-3-4 overall record. Brainerd finished 6-2-2 in the Central Lakes Conference which landed them in third place in the final season standings. More importantly, the Warriors were 4-1-3 against Section 8-3A opponents. A feat that earned them the No. 2 seed in the postseason, which will begin 6 p.m. Thursday when Brainerd hosts No. 7 Rogers at Adamson Field in Brainerd.

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Brainerd finished the regular season as the 23rd-ranked Class 3A team according to the Quality Results Formula.

“Being a captain meant a lot to me,” Walkowiak said. “I always felt like I could handle the pressures of being a leader and a captain for a team. When I was younger, I dreamt about being one of those captains and being one of those people others could look to for help and look for support and strength when they needed it. Just being assigned that role along with the other captains who are my best friends has been awesome and a really big thing for me. It’s taught me a lot.”

Walkowiak started his role early by organizing captain’s practices and team outings. He said the early work helped because Brainerd was a young team. He said the preseason preparation helped the inexperienced players jump into their new roles with few growing pains. The proof is in Brainerd’s on-field results.

“Getting the No. 2 seed is a great accomplishment for us given that we heard a lot of negativity heading into this year about how we weren’t going to be as strong of a team and we weren’t going to be able to succeed and do well,” Walkowiak said. “Some guys let that get to them and some didn’t, but it’s a big accomplishment for us to get at least one home game. We’re taking it one game at a time because we’re hoping to keep up the momentum we finished the regular season with. To have that first playoff game be at home is really big for us.”

A big reason why Walkowiak is excited to host the quarterfinal playoff game is the Warriors are 8-0-1 at home this season. Brainerd topped Sauk Rapids 3-0 to conclude the regular season. In the home game before that, the Warriors knocked off St. Cloud Tech 2-0.

He’s very intelligent. He’s going to go places in the world.
Tom Grausam

Brainerd opened the season against Rogers. That game ended in a 0-0 overtime tie. It was the first of three scoreless ties Brainerd endured this season. The Warriors finished with eight shutouts.

As a midfielder, Grausam said Walkowiak and the other mids were instrumental in helping a young defensive squad early in the season.

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“It was a big thing going into the season because we had a lot of returning offense and zero returning defense so we were really thinking about first, who will be our varsity defense and how are we going to get them ready to play at that level. That kind of came into play during our captain’s practices and preseason having a big role in how to correctly play defense in certain situations. I think that was a major role starting out when we started out practice with coaches, we took about two or three weeks and only focused on defense. We had two or three games where we had great games and didn’t allow anything in our half. But then we turned around and realized it was time to work on offense because we had only been focused on defense.”

For the season, Walkowiak has one goal and three assists. Two of those assists came during a 2-0 home win against Rocori Aug. 30, Walkowiak assisted on goals from Karlton Anderson and Nick Holmberg.

His last assist came on a Holmberg goal in Brainerd’s 3-2 home win over Alexandria Sept. 22.

“I love playing midfield,” Walkowiak said. “It’s super fun, I mean everybody on the field helps everyone else at every position, but you look upon your midfield to run all the way back to help to the goalie and then run all the way back down the field to help the offense score. It really brings out the work ethic in midfielders. In my opinion, it’s some of the most running in soccer. Just being able to work with your three, four or five other midfielders and run all over the field is just a fun thing to do.

“You keep each other accountable to work that hard. It really comes down to which team controls the midfield controls the game.”

In Brainerd’s 1-0 win over Sartell Sept. 8, Holmberg and Walkowiak switched roles as Walkowiak scored the game-winner off an assist from Holmberg in a 1-0 victory in Brainerd.

“He sees the passing lanes that are open,” Grausam said. “He gets the ball to the corner and he’s able to get off the crossing passes from the corner. If he loses the ball he gets it back right away or at least tries to.

“He’s very intelligent. He’s going to go places in the world. He’s a very talented person all the way around.”

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JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.

Keaton Walkowiak

Keaton Walkowiak
Keaton Walkowiak
Kelly Humphrey

Sport: Boys' soccer

Position: Midfield

Year: Senior

Age: 17

Height: 6-foot

Career highlight: Brainerd’s 2-0 home win over St. Cloud Tech

Grade-point average: 3.7

Favorite class: Economics

Favorite food: Chicken Alfredo

Favorite movie: “Fast and Furious”

Favorite TV show: “The Blacklist”

Favorite musician: Kendrick Lamar

Favorite restaurant: El Tequila Mexican Restaurant

Future plans: Attend college with a focus on business and entrepreneurship

Favorite athlete: Erling Haaland

Parents: Jason and Darcy Walkowiak

Other notable performances

Aden Yost, volleyball, finished with 17 set assists, 11 digs and an ace serve against Sartell and added three ace serves, six digs and 20 set assists.

Kate Stadum, volleyball, finished with 15 kills and 12 digs against Sartell and added four ace serves, 13 kills, nine digs and a block against Sauk Rapids.

Drew Larson, boys’ soccer, scored the game-tying goal against Sartell and added an assist against Sauk Rapids.

Damien Bentho, football, rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown on 18 carriers against Rogers.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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