Coming into the 2019 season, Brainerd Warriors outside hitter Avery Eckman had a lot of expectations on her plate.

“She was certainly our go-to person,” Warriors head coach Rick Kuehlwein said. “She’s the kind of kid that can take over a game at times.”

The senior delivered racking up a team-leading 344 kills and adding 278 digs to help the Warriors to a 20-9 record. Those numbers and her impact on Brainerd’s season helped her land the Brainerd Dispatch Volleyball Player of the Year.

“The season went really well,” Eckman said. “I kind of shifted from player role to a leader role this year, I felt like, being a captain. It was fun to take on that new challenge.”

Eckman added 59 blocks and 39 ace serves to earn All-Central lakes Conference honors, too. She’s the first Warrior since 2011 to earn Area Player of the Year honors.

As the season went on she knew she would have to perform in every game for the Warriors to have a chance to win.

It was not necessarily all about the individual numbers for Eckman in her senior season, but more about the team's success.

“Whether it was me getting the kill or someone else, we just wanted to win,” Eckman said.

Kuehlwein said Eckman was a no-nonsense leader which helped the team improve during her four years.

“When other kids would not play up to their abilities, that would upset her a lot,” Kuehlwein said. “She was a captain and she would really want to get them going in practice, so we could play like we practice.

“She’s always been a quiet leader, but this year she kind of asserted herself a little more, which was nice for us. The other girls looked at her to lead them. I would have liked a little more balance, but I think the kids played better because they did not want to let Avery down. She led by example, that was her best attribute.”

As the season progressed Eckman battled through injuries. Her production never seemed to slow down.

“She had a hip injury that hampered her a little bit,” Kuehlwein said. “Avery has a great vertical jump and not many girls can jump over 30 inches and she can. She wanted to play so bad that she was willing to play through the pain.”

In Eckman’s freshman season at Brainerd, the Warriors only won one conference game and finished the season with seven wins total -- six of them coming in tournaments.

Watching the Warriors volleyball program grow over her four years while wearing a Brainerd uniform is something Eckman takes a lot of pride in.

“To go from, like a two-win season to a 20-win season is really cool,” she said.

Eckman is known around the area for her powerful spike and hits. However, she worked on being a more all-around player and it paid off with a scholarship offer to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

“What happened with Avery this year is she’s always been good offensively, well her defense was spectacular this year,” Kuehlwein said. “It was her defense that got her the scholarship to UMD.”

In the past, Eckman was not relied upon to do much of the passing for the Warriors. In 2019, Kuehlwein noticed an improvement and teams trying to avoid Eckman because of how well she read the court.

Kuehlwein thinks it will take time for Eckman to adjust UMD’s system. The Bulldogs are one of the better college programs in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and in NCAA Division II.

“Once she gets accumulated it will help a lot,” Kuehlwein said. “It will be a learning curve for her simply because more will be expected of her.”

Next year, Eckman will be missed because Kuehlwein says it’s hard to replace the type of offensive firepower she brought to the Warriors. He mentioned Eckman as one of the two best arms in the Central Lakes Conference along with Elizabeth Dille of Sartell.

“You just don’t replace that kind of production,” Kuehlwein said.

Avery Eckman

Year: Senior

School: Brainerd

Position: Outside hitter

Season stats: Finished with 344 kills, 278 digs, 59 blocks and 39 ace serves on 90% serving.

Next year: University of Minnesota, Duluth

All-Area Volleyball Players of Year

2019: Avery Eckman, Brd

2018: Bailey Wynn, PRB

2017: Casey Volkmann, WDC

2016: Shania Glenz, Verndale

2015: Shania & Jordyn Glenz, Verndale

2014: Shania & Jordyn Glenz, Verndale

2013: Bridget Bednar, Pierz

2012: Emily Miron, WDC

2011: Sydnie Mauch, Brd; Brittney Noon, WDC

2010: Courtney Volkmann, WDC

2009: Courtney Volkmann, WDC

2008: Brigetta Berg, WDC

2007: Katie Kimman, Pierz

2006: Annie Adams, C-I

2005: Erin Cusac, PRB

2004: Erin Cusac, PRB