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Warriors Athlete of Week: Youthful setter quarterbacks volleyball team

Cara Helgeson Sport: Volleyball Position: Setter Year: Sophomore Age: 15 Height: 5-8 Career highlight: Acing the game-winning serve to beat St. Cloud Apollo Other sports: Basketball Grade-point average: 4.167 Favorite class: Math Favorite food: M...

Brainerd’s Cara Helgeson serves the ball during a recent game. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)
Brainerd’s Cara Helgeson serves the ball during a recent game. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

Cara Helgeson

Sport: Volleyball

Position: Setter

Year: Sophomore

Age: 15

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Height: 5-8

Career highlight: Acing the game-winning serve to beat St. Cloud Apollo

Other sports: Basketball

Grade-point average: 4.167

Favorite class: Math

Favorite food: Mexican

Favorite TV show: "One Tree Hill"

Favorite website: Instagram

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Hobbies: Sports

Future plans: Possibly pursue career in physical therapy

Parents: Lana and Craig Helgeson

Her role may not make many headlines but what Cara Helgeson provides the Brainerd Warriors volleyball team couldn't function without.

She's one of the Warriors' setters, along with Kirsten Johnshoy, and has quarterbacked Brainerd to a better than anticipated 14-17 record entering Tuesday night's opening round of the Section 8-3A tournament. The ninth-seeded Warriors played No. 8 St. Cloud Tech which narrowly defeated Brainerd twice in the regular season.

Helgeson believes the Warriors overachieved this fall.

"I definitely think we did because we came into the season pretty underestimated because of all the seniors we lost last year," she said. "Our senior hitters and setters really stepped up. We got a new offense. We did a lot better than everyone expected which is good."

Diem said Helgeson belongs in the group of the best setters he's coached - Johnshoy, Alana Hanson, Hannah Kangas and Jenna Degen.

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"They all had different things you look for in a setter," Diem said. "They have things about them that made them great setters but they never had all the things you're looking for in a great setter. Cara has it. The things she brings to the team - she is absolutely aggressive on defense, has a ton of digs. As a setter, you should have a ton of digs because they're the ones who are always playing defense.

"She's a great defender, super quick off the ball. She reads exceptionally well for being so young."

Diem entrusts the 15-year-old sophomore to run his offense. She has responded with 272 set assists, 128 digs and 30 ace serves. But nothing thrills her more than when a teammate smokes a kill off of one of her sets.

"Basically whenever I set someone up and they get a kill it's like me getting a kill," Helgeson said. "I probably get more excited than they do."

Diem said enthusiasm and humility are among Helgeson's attributes.

"You have to be unselfish as a setter because you never get any credit," Diem said. "It's always the hitter who gets the ball that makes a perfect hit or a (libero and teammate) Maddy Stall who gives the ball to the setter. For someone to have that sheer excitement when someone puts the ball away, that's a unique thing about a setter."

Part of the reason Helgeson succeeds, Diem said, is that she has an "infectious personality."
"Everyone loves to be around her, everyone loves to play around her," he added. "She's a great teammate, a great friend on the team. She knows when to joke around. She also knows when to be series. That's sometimes a fine line athletes can't figure out - when to be silly, when to be focused."

One of her most satisfying games in her first varsity season was Sept. 10 when Brainerd won 3-1 at St. Cloud Apollo. The Warriors trailed 23-20 when Helgeson toed the service line.

"I was really nervous," she said. "I had some pretty good serves and we kept putting the ball away. The game-winning point I served and they didn't go for it because it was deep. It ended up being in so it was an ace."

Diem said Helgeson is an accurate server, one who served the last five points of the fourth set against Apollo.

"That shows she doesn't get shook - she can perform on the big plays which a lot of players don't," Diem said. "She had two aces to end the game. That kind of toughness is something Brainerd volleyball's been looking for for a long, long time."

Diem said Helgeson's "even-keeled" personality is what a coach searches for in a setter.

"Even though she's excitable, she's in control of herself and what she's going to do on the court," he said. "As a setter, she's like a quarterback on the football field. You don't want someone who's too high-strung and you don't want someone opposite of that. You want someone who's in the middle - someone who can explode, have excitement when there needs to be and also has to give her attackers confidence.

"She's one of the most coachable girls I've ever coached. You tell her one thing and you can just see it in her eyes that she's working on it. She applies it immediately even if it's uncomfortable for her. A lot of girls you tell them something and if it doesn't feel right to them they fight the instruction. Cara will just do it."

The Warriors will graduate four seniors but will return at least six players, including Helgeson, who started or played extensively this fall.

"Knowing that I have her two more years, this solid setter, the kind of setter I've always wanted with the all-around skill that I'm looking for, is something that's exciting for me," Diem said. "It's not just her skill, it's her mental work ethic. All the assistant coaches are also excited to see what she's going to do."

MIKE BIALKA may be reached at mike.bialka@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark .

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