Volleyball: Warriors reload in big way

The Brainerd Warriors open the 2021 season 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 31, at St. Cloud Tech.

Brainerd Warrior volleyball captains Hala Davis, (left) Meghan Smith, Kate Stadum and Myah Nelson practice blocking Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021 at Brainerd High School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Nine student-athletes graduated from last year’s COVID-19 stunted Brainerd Warriors roster.

In the hectic, herky-jerky flow to the 2020 season, the Warriors finished 6-3 in the Central Lakes Conference and 8-5 overall. Brainerd also managed a victory against long-time nemesis Moorhead.

And while nine players departed, the cupboard doesn't appear to be bare in the mind of head coach Rick Kuehlwein.

“We had three good scrimmages and saw 18 different teams, which was good, and I had a 10-team scrimmage last week,” Kuehlwein said. “The team is better than I thought it was going to be.

“We have some kids back who are playing pretty good and played varsity last year. We have Iyana Pickar who is doing a good job. We have Meghan Smith who is filling the role of Madi Genz at outside hitter. She and Kate Stadum are our two best defenders. We’re doing something we haven’t done in the past in that we’re using our middles in the back row a little bit this year. I’m using Hala (Davis) hitting out of the pipe, which is in the middle.”


Davis is a 6-foot-2 senior middle hitter. She finished with 75 kills last year, which translated into 1.8 kills per set with a 47.8 kill percentage. She added 21 blocks and 15 digs.

“Hala went and played with Vital (volleyball club) down in the Cities and she got a lot of exposure this past year on the national level,” Kuehlwein said. “She got to practice twice a week down in the Cities, where we didn’t have that opportunity because of COVID last year.”

Meghan Smith is a 5-7 senior outside hitter. This is her third varsity season. She tallied 21 kills, 1 block, 125 digs and nine ace serves on 94% serving.

Kate Stadum is a 5-8 junior outside hitter. She recorded 96 kills, 13 blocks, 138 digs and four ace serves on 94% serving.

“Kate has grown as a player,” Kuehlwein said. “She’s getting stronger. In practice, we’ve been talking about just playing and not thinking so much. We’re putting in some extra plays this year. I’m not sure if we’re ready to run them yet, but I can tell you for sure, we can play with anybody when we’re playing. I mean that sincerely. When we can pass, we can play with anybody.”

Pickar added 45 kills, 35 blocks and two digs last season. She is a 5-11 junior middle hitter.

“Our back row middle attack is pretty devastating,” Kuehlwein said. “Hala is 6-2 and if we can keep her swinging and keep her mind in the game she’s going to be a big offensive threat for us not only in the front row, but in the back row, too. Once we get our passing down, and our passing is fine. Our serve receive was good. It’s much better than I thought it was going to be. We scrimmaged against Alexandria. We saw Tech, Apollo and Sartell and we’re right there with anybody.”

One position that is inexperienced from a varsity standpoint is setter. Senior Myah Nelson will handle the majority of the duty along with Aden Yost and Anika Aho.


“Myah is a point guard in basketball,” Kuehlwein said. “She’s athletic. She’s very quick and she’s got a big top side. We’re going to go with a 6-2 (offense). Our sets aren’t at the elite level yet, but they’re getting better all the time. We have good strength in our offense when we are in system.”

“We have good arms. On the right side, I’m using Abby Paulson. She’s a 5-11 junior. She played middle on JV and she also went to AAU with us and I’m using a freshman that I brought up. Her name is Karley Dunham. She’s about 6-0 tall and a right-side, middle hitter. She’s athletic and she jumps higher than anybody in the gym.”

Junior Emma Storm will back up Stadum and Smith on the outside. Kuehlwein believes all 12 varsity players will contribute this year. He likes the team chemistry and he’s intrigued by the different rotations he can create because of his depth.

“Hala and Iyana are going to be our middles to start the year,” Kuehlwein said. “Then Megan Smith and Kate will be our outside and when we do the switch with our setters, Myah will start and she’ll be opposite Abby. When we get the rotation where we switch setters out we’ll put the freshman in right away.”

Ella Anderson is a junior who will tackle the defensive responsibilities.

“I want her to be a libero,” Kuehlwein. “A libero can go in all the time and nothing is going to fall around her and they’re passing at a better clip than 50%. Ella is doing a good job and she’ll spell our middle in the back row at times.”

Brainerd will host a tournament Sept. 11 and will compete in a Duluth East Tournament Sept. 25 and a Blaine Tournament Oct. 1. The Warriors will compete in Section 8-4A, which is new this season. Brainerd will be matched up against Bemidji, Buffalo, Elk River, Moorhead, Rogers, Sartell and St. Michael-Albertville.

One game to look forward to on the regular season schedule will be Sept. 13 when Brainerd travels to Pequot Lakes.


“I’m excited to get a full schedule,” Kuehlwein said. “Last year was just a horrible year. We start. We stop. We start. We stop. Then we thought we were going into December and we ended it about Thanksgiving. Kids got half the amount of games in.

“I’m excited to get our first tournament in. That’s the key. Our slogan is ‘It’s not where we start. It’s where we finish.’ I mean that sincerely. Last year the conference winner was Sartell and we split with them. We split with Moorhead and I don’t think we took a step back.”

Warrior roster
Seniors: Hala Davis (middle hitter, right-side), Meghan Smith (outside hitter), Myah Nelson (setter, defensive specialist)
Juniors: Kate Stadum (outside hitter, right-side), Iyana Pickar (middle hitter, right-side), Emma Storm (outside hitter, defensive specialist) , Ella Anderson (defensive specialist, libero), Anika Aho (setter, right-side), Aden Yost (setter), Abby Paulson (right-side, middle hitter)
Sophomores: Greta Jager (middle hitter, right-side)
Freshman: Karley Dunham (right-side, middle hitter)

Warrior schedule
Tuesday, Aug. 31: at St. Cloud Tech 7 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 2: hosts Sartell 7 p.m.
Sept. 7: at Sauk Rapids 7 p.m.
Sept. 9: hosts Willmar 7 p.m.
Sept. 11: hosts Warrior Tournament 10 a.m.
Sept. 13: at Pequot Lakes 7:15 p.m.
Sept. 16: at Fergus Falls 7 p.m.
Spet. 21: hosts Alexandria 7 p.m.
Sept. 23: at Rocori 7 p.m.
Sept. 25: at Duluth East Tournament 9 a.m.
Sept. 28: hosts St. Cloud Apollo 7 p.m.
Sept. 30: hosts St. Cloud Tech 7 p.m.
Oct. 1: at Blaine Tournament 8 a.m.
Oct. 5: at Sartell 7 p.m.
Oct. 7: hosts Sauk Rapids 7 p.m.
Oct. 12: hosts Bemidji 7 p.m.
Oct. 14: at Willmar 7 p.m.

Head coach: Rick Kuehlwein, fifth year at Brainerd (18 years at Cretin-Derham Hall)
2020 finish: 6-3 CLC, 8-5 overall
Career record: 457-172
Captains: Mya Nelson, Meghan Smith, Hala Davis, Kate Stadum
Assistant coaches: Nate Eckman, Carla Stall (JV), Tana Johnson (B-squad), Ann Hunnicutt (freshmen), Luella Stelck (freshmen)

Rick Kuehlwein

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