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Season Preview: Warrior girls to start season with 1 goal

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Brainerd Warrior soccer forward Gina Wasnieski kicks the ball during practice Thursday, aug. 15, at the Southdale soccer fields. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

With one goal in mind, the Brainerd Warriors will begin their journey toward a state tournament when they open play Saturday, Aug. 24, at Rogers.

That’s Brainerd’s goal. That’s its only goal.

Winning the Central Lakes Conference -- been there, done that. In fact, Brainerd is on a 20-game conference winning streak and owns a 30-1-1 conference record over the last three seasons. Brainerd’s last conference loss came Oct. 10, 2016, to Sartell.

The Warriors have hosted playoff games so that’s not a goal. The goal is state.

“At the end of last season, we sat down with all of the girls that were returning and had individual meetings with each of them,” Brainerd head coach Grant Gmeinder said. “We just echoed to them, we asked ‘what is your goal for next year?’ We wouldn’t let them leave the room until they said the state tournament. That’s it. That’s our goal. That’s where we want to get to.”

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Last season, Brainerd finished 13-4 and opened the Section 8-2A playoffs with a 1-0 win over Buffalo. The season finished on a 2-1 loss to St. Michael-Albertville in the semifinals.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Gmeinder said. “Last year’s team came into the season with different expectations. Part of that was the experience that those seniors had. You look at like Olivia King, Abby Pohlkamp with the state hockey tournament. Obviously, Alexis Menghini after the soccer season makes it to state in golf. I think we just saw from that group of seniors, they didn’t go into that game against St. Michael thinking that we couldn’t win. They went into that game thinking we could win. It turn out the way we wanted, but that was their expectations. I think we see that with this group, too.

“We have a lot of hockey girls, who played in a state championship game. We have three girls who were in the state tournament for Nordic skiing. Olivia Tautges played in a section final in softball as an eighth grader.”

While much of the talk will likely be surrounded by Brainerd’s returning offensive prowess, Gmeinder said it’s the defense that’s catching everyone’s eyes in practice.

“I think that was our expectation going into our first day,” Gmeinder said. “We thought, certainly our attack would be the strength of our team. Honestly, what we’ve found through a week and a half, is they are struggling to score against our defense. It’s not because they aren’t playing well. Our defense is just improved a ton. The kids that have stepped into those positions are doing a great job.”

Those kids are senior Ariana Jensen and junior Kayla Bush at center back. Freshman Molly Hagelie, three-year varsity player Lexi McElfresh and second-year player Lily Schaeffer.

In goal will be senior Shayla Makowski-Budrow, who saw action in two varsity games last season behind Molly Rudolph. She collected four saves and gave up one goal in 50 minutes of action.

“Going from Molly, who in my mind is the best goalie Brainerd has ever had, it is scary to lose her,” Gmeinder said, “but to have another senior step up in Shayla, I feel very good about where she is at and the leadership she has taken.

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“Shayla was the goalie at the USA Cup and she was pretty mad she gave up that one goal.”

Brainerd’s 19-and-under Blast won the Silver A Division of the USA Cup, July 16-19, in Blaine. Thirteen girls on this year’s roster were on that squad that finished 6-0 and outscored its opponents 26-1.

Last season, Brainerd outscored its 17 opponents 47-14. The Warriors collected 11 shutouts in its 13 wins.

Doing most of the scoring last year was senior forward Gabbie Smith, who finished with 16 goals and 13 assists. Senior wing Josie Kramer posted 10 goals and five assists. Senior wing Gina Wasniewski tallied seven goals and 10 assists. The three combined for 11 game-winning goals.

“What is so unique about this group, we’ve had really talented attacks in the past, but they’ve kind of revolved around one or two players,” Gmeinder said. “This group, we’re bringing back Gabbie, who was all-state second team. We’re bringing back Josie and Gina, who were all-conference. Then you throw in Emma Smith, who dealt with injuries as a sophomore and last year, but is an incredibly gifted athlete. Those four out front are just going to create a lot of problems for teams.

“The biggest thing is they are so fast and so strong.”

Gmeinder said Rogers and St. Michael-Albertville both graduated a good group of seniors, but expects them to reload. He believes Moorhead might be the team to beat in the Section 8-2A playoffs as the Spuds return their top two leading scorers from last year’s section finals team.

Maple Grove also moves into section 8 this season, but Gmeinder is solely concentrated on making sure his team is ready for every game.

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“Honestly, to start the year we had a little complacency,” Gmeinder said. “I think we returned so many kids with experience and talent and coming off a USA Cup victory, I worry whether or not we still have that hunger? Do we still have that desire in practice all the time? Come game time, we’re not worried, but are we going to be as prepared as we can be?

“That’s my biggest concern with this group. We’re really good, but maybe we know. I think as coaches and maybe themselves as a team they need to be reminded if we want to get to state then we have to keep getting better.”

Warrior girls soccer

Head coach: Grant Gmeinder, sixth season

2017 finish: 10-0 CLC, 13-4 overall

Career record: Career 66-17-2 (.776)

Captains: Gina Wasniewski, Gabbie Smith

Assistant coaches: Emily Monda, Alex Citrowske, Mike Weissenfluh

Warrior roster

Seniors: Ariana Jensen (CB), Abby Klecker (CM), Josie Kramer (W), Shayla Makowski-Budrow (GK), Emma Smith (W), Gabbie Smith (F), Gina Wasniewski (W)

Juniors: Kayla Bush (CB), Mari Devine (CM), Taylor Larson (CM), Allyson Welson (F/W)

Sophomores: Avery LeMieur (CM), Lexi McElfresh (OB/W), Lily Schaeffer (OB), Olivia Tautges (CM)

Freshmen: Molly Hagelie (OB), Emma Sheflo (W)

Warrior schedule

Saturday, Aug. 24: at Rogers 1 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 29: at St. Cloud Apollo 7 p.m.

Sept. 3: hosts St. Cloud Tech 7 pm.

Sept. 5: at Sartell 5 p.m.

Sept. 7: at Moorhead 1 p.m.

Sept. 9: hosts Sauk Rapids 7 p.m.

Sept. 12: at Willmar 5 p.m.

Sept. 17: hosts Fergus Falls 7 p.m.

Sept. 19: at Alexandria 7 p.m.

Sept. 21: at Bemidji 3 p.m.

Sept. 24: hosts Rocori 7 p.m.

Sept. 26: hosts St. Cloud Apollo 7 p.m.

Oct. 1: at St. Cloud Tech 7 p.m.

Oct. 3: hosts St. Michael-Albertville 7 p.m.

Oct. 5: hosts Elk River 3 p.m.

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