Few people will be able to see the Brainerd Warriors compete this season and unfortunately they’ll miss some top-notch diving.
The dynamic duo of Brenna Deason and Izzy Olson along with fellow returner Sabrina Buffetta will be a strength for this year’s Brainerd team, which features a youth movement.
The Warriors roster has just six seniors and two juniors with sophomores and freshmen filling the other spots.
Deason and Olson are both sophomores and return after advancing to the Class 2A State meet. Olson was All-Central Lakes Conference while Deason and Buffetta were honorable mention divers.
Deason placed 10th at state with 236.5 points and Olson posted an 18th-place 218.75.
Olson is the returning Section 8-2A champion, where she scored a 390.65. Deason was third and Buffetta placed seventh, just three spots away from also advancing to state.
“It’s nice to know you have that one go-to event where you should be able to gain a leg up on your opponent,” Warriors head coach Dan Anderson said. “It’s always good. Beyond those two, we’re five or six deep in diving. That’s an advantage to us. It’s really nice when you’re writing out a lineup to know you have a bit of a cushion in that one event.”
Pushing those three will be sophomores Megan Wirtz, Malina Schiller and Ella Dirks. Anderson said Dirks will be used in both diving and swimming events this season.
Sophomore Alexis Lugo is Brainerd’s top returning sprinter. She placed ninth in the 50-yard freestyle of the section meet. She and Ellie Mattson also competed in the 100 freestyle at sections.
“She had a nice freshman year and came a long way,” Anderson said. “Mattson and Lugo will handle the 100 free and, depending on who we are swimming against, Gabby Chalupsky and Macey Whitlock could also step into those events.”
Whitlock and Sophie Mattson will handle the distance freestyles. At sections, Mattson placed sixth in the 200 and seventh in the 500. Whitlock was ninth in both.
“We’re pretty solid in the distance freestyle with those two,” Anderson said.
Senior Gabby VanHorn returns after taking last year off and Anderson couldn’t be more pleased with her return.
“Practice is a whole different deal with Gabby there,” Anderson said. “She is so encouraging to the other kids and is the nicest girl you’d ever want to meet. She just makes everybody around her happy. We’re thrilled to have her back and we have no idea what we’re going to swim her in. She’s talented. She can swim lots of different things.”
Chandler Niemeyer was part of the fourth-place 200 medley relay team at sections last year as a junior and was 16th in the individual medley and ninth in the 100 breaststroke. She also swam the second leg of Brainerd’s third-place 200 free relay.
“She swam the 200 IM last year and she really didn’t like it,” Anderson said. “She’ll have to swim it occasionally in some dual meets, but I see her more this year as a sprinter and then of course she’ll be in the breaststroke That’s her specialty. She’ll find her way onto two relays.
Fellow Senior Ashlee Adams is returning for her fourth season, but like everyone will have to adjust to a shortened season when it comes to training.
“A lot of it is going to be a seat of the pants kind of thing,” Anderson said. “We’re still going to train for some kind of a culminating meet on Oct. 31. We’re hoping that by chance there will be a state meet, but if not, we’ll have a dual meet with somebody. We lose a couple of weeks of training so I have to decide which parts of our training can be condensed and which ones can’t. I think we’ll stay pretty close with the beginning of the year with building an aerobic base. We’ll have to cut a week of training out of our second stage and probably a week out of our third stage, but I think we can do it. We’ll have them full trained and ready by Oct. 31. That’s the goal anyways.”
Junior Grace Haglin is enjoying a year of healthy knees so she’s hoping to make a name for herself in the backstroke this year. CaitlinMae Hamitlon will help Niemeyer in the breaststroke and will likely do the individual medley.
Sophomore Mariah Alderson returns as Brainerd’s top butterfly swimmer. She placed 18th in the section prelims just ahead of Chalupsky. Alderson was also 19th in the backstroke.
Brainerd has a history of strong relays and this year, while it may take some time to construct, should be no different.
“We’re just awfully young this year,” Anderson said. “Over half of our team is sophomores and freshmen. It’s going to take awhile for things to sort out. We have the makings for a couple of good relays. We might be one person short right now, but we’ll find that person.”
Adding to all the COVID-19 protocols, the Warriors have also had to deal with not having a home pool to practice in this preseason because of construction. Brainerd has traveled to Staples for practice. Staples-Motley teamed with Little Falls this season so the Cardinals’ pool was available.
“It’s kind of like cooking in somebody else’s kitchen,” Anderson said. “You don’t know where anything is and so you spend more time looking for stuff and trying to get a routine down. Our first day over there it was a mess, but then the second day the girls started getting the routine. Plus, you have to work in the COVID stuff with only so many girls in the locker room at a time so we’re dismissing kids in shifts.
“I never thought I would be coaching in this environment, but we’re making due.”
Seniors: Ashlee Adams, Sabrina Buffetta, Ellie Mattson, Chandler Niemeyer, Gabby VanHorn, Macey Whitlock
Juniors: CaitlinMae Hamilton, Grace Haglin
Sophomores: Mariah Alderson, Gabby Chalupsky, Brenna Deason, Ella Dirks, Lily Haglin, Evi Helsene, Alexis Lugo, Sophie Mattson, Izzy Olson, Megan Wirtz, Hady Aker, Maggie Neptune, Casey Provost, Malina Schiller, Layla Wallace, Keyonna Young
Freshmen: Mallory Anderson, Vanessa Anderson, Scarlett Anderson, Claire Dano, Kayli Dorn, Jayna Hegstrom, Autumn Larson, Ameerah Morales, Ella Ostrowski, Isabelle Smith, Olivia Strong, Mya Tautges, Addison Wirtz
Thursday, Aug. 27: at Fergus Falls 6 p.m.
Sept. 3: hosts Rocori 6 p.m.
Sept. 10: at Sauk Rapids 6 p.m.
Sept. 15: at St. Cloud Tech 6 p.m.
Sept. 17: hosts Willmar 6 p.m.
Sept. 22: At Bemidji 6 p.m.
Sept. 24: hosts Moorhead 6 p.m.
Sept. 29: at Alexandria 6 p.m.
Oct. 6: at Sartell 6 p.m.
Oct. 8: hosts St. Cloud Apollo 6 p.m.
Oct. 13: Central Lakes Conference meet TBD
Warrior girls swimming and diving
Head coach: Dan Anderson, 35th season (28th in Brainerd)
Brainerd record: 208-55
Record at Rock Springs, Wyo.: 66-31-1
Career record: 272-86-1
2019 finish: 6-2 CLC, 8-2 overall
Returning state entrants: Izzy Olson, Brenna Deason
Assistant coaches: Ann Stenglein (27th season), Mary Streiff, diving (22nd season), Kris Peterson (volunteer, eighth year), Fallon Ryan (volunteer, first year)