And they’re off.
With just one day of practice, the Brainerd Warriors will start their COVID-19 shortened season Thursday, Oct. 8, when they host the Fergus Falls Otters before an empty Brainerd High School Gymnasium.
The volleyball team was not able to practice the last two weeks because of a cluster of COVID-19 cases at the Brainerd High School that shutdown any contact with players and any use of school facilities.
While Brainerd head coach Rick Kuehlwein has not practiced with his team, he knows what he has returning from a team that went 20-9 and has 12 girls with varsity experience, including both setters and a wealth of offensive power.
He will miss the dynamic attack of graduated Avery Eckman, who took her talents to the University of Minnesota, Duluth, but the cupboard is not bare in Brainerd.
“Offense will be our strength,” Kuehlwein said. “At the present moment, I have to worry about serve receive because we haven’t had time to work on it, but pretty much these same kids played Junior Olympic volleyball as long as the season lasted. They are anxious to get going.
“I think we’ll be strong after a week or two. We’re going to get better defensively, but I just can’t tell you how we are right now.”
Setters Abbigayle Bohlen and Grace Peabody both return after splitting time last season. Bohlen finished with 439 set assists, three kills, 132 digs and a serving percentage of 96% with 23 aces.
Peabody returns after posting 360 set assists, 127 digs and a serving percentage of 96% with 21 aces.
“Our setters remain the same in Abby and Grace,” Kuehlwein said. “It’s a big benefit to have both back. Abby has made great strides in a lot of different areas. It’s going to benefit Karli Anderson for sure. She’s got a couple of college offers for next year. She has a gun and we just have to make sure she knows how to load it now.”
Last season, Anderson posted 94 kills with a kill efficiency of 47.7%. She added 109 blocks and 12 digs.
“I need her to be consistent and positive hitting,” Kuehlwein said. “She’s got a great arm. She can jump and she’s got great feet. She’s not overly tall for a middle hitter. She’s about 5-foot-10, but she’s got a motor. We just have to make sure we know how to control it. This is a big year for her.”
Senior captain Madison Genz is a versatile hitter, who could play outside, middle or right-side as needed. Last year she finished with 71 kills, 45 blocks and 38 digs.
“Maddie Genz is a lot stronger this year and she could be ready for a big year,” Kuehlwein said. “Madi Genz, Kate Stadum, and Meghan Smith are all right there and so is Rachel Trusty. Those four all have unique skills.
“Meghan Smith is by far our best defender right now. It’s going to be how bad these kids want it. We can switch all three of those girls from outside hitter to right-side hitter. The same with Hala Davis, who is probably our most improved player. She’ll be a force on the right side.
“We’ve got some really nice, young players. We’re missing the Avery Eckman type, but these girls got some varsity time last year. I have Davis, who is 6-foot-1, and she’s just a killer. She’ll surprise a lot of people this year.”
Finding a true libero will be a key for Brainerd, who will stress serve receiving once again this year in order to get into their offense and attack efficiently.
“We’ll be better offensively than we were last year,” Kuehlwein said. “If we can serve receive at a 50% clip we’ll be right there. We can play with anybody in our league and we can beat anybody in our league, but we have to execute and with that shortened season I don’t know what to tell you.
“What this lack of practice really hurts is the younger kids because we don’t have time to work them out. We could have a few more players on varsity after a week or two, but it’s tough because we have to pick teams. I know who the varsity is because I know those kids, but I also know there are a couple of kids that won’t get a shake because we had no preseason.”
Despite the lack of practice, Kuehlwein said there was no way he was not going to play Thursday just because of lack of time and scheduling conflicts that may result in not being able to find a makeup date.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be difficult, but I certainly didn’t want to forgo playing it just because it will be hard to make them up,” he said. “If the kids can serve receive, I’m pretty sure we can be successful. It’s not so much the defense during rallies, but if we can serve receive at 50-55% where we can run some plays off it, I think we’ll do fine.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.
Head coach: Rick Kuehlwein, fourth year at Brainerd (18 years at Cretin-Derham Hall)
2019 finish: 9-3 CLC, 20-9 overall
Career record: 449-167
Captains: Hillary Hoelz, Grace Peabody, Madison Genz
Assistant coaches: Nate Eckman, Carla Stall (JV), Hailey Tihlarik (B-squad), Tana Johnson (freshmen)
Thursday, Oct. 8: vs. Fergus Falls 7 p.m.
Oct. 13: at Sartell 7 p.m.
Oct. 15: vs. Rocori 7 p.m.
Oct. 20: vs. St. Cloud Apollo 7 p.m.
Oct. 22: at Sauk Rapids 7 p.m.
Oct. 27: at St. Cloud Tech 7 p.m.
Oct. 29: vs. Willmar 7 p.m.
Nov. 2: at Bemidji 7 p.m.
Nov. 5: vs. Moorhead 7 p.m.
Nov. 10: at Alexandria 7 p.m.
Nov. 17: vs. Sartell 7 pm.
Nov. 19: at Fergus Falls 7 p.m.
Seniors: Hillary Hoelz, Grace Peabody, Makenna O’neal, Madison Genz, Abbigayle Bohlen, Olivia Stirewalt, Kiara Story, Rachel Trusty, Karlie Anderson
Juniors: Hala Davis, Meghan Smith
Sophomores: Kate Stadum, Iyana Pickar