Even though the Brainerd Warriors won three regular-season games last season, their 1-0 loss to Anoka in the Section 8-2A quarterfinals is a reason for optimism heading into 2012.
Brainerd was the eighth seed in the section and Anoka was No. 1. As evidenced by the final score, the Warriors gave the Tornadoes all they could handle.
“Our last game was our best game,” Warriors coach Tony Smith said. “I think that’s a reminder that if we put in the effort and energy, and remember to play smart, we can compete with the best teams in the state.”
About half of the players on this year’s roster played all or saw some varsity action in 2011. Captains Marcus Comstock (defense) and Brayden Campbell (midfield) were varsity regulars. Nick Solheim (midfield), a junior captain, has transferred into the program from Montana.
Comstock will likely anchor a defensive corps, along with senior Adam Bouchard and junior Josh Garber. Junior David Hughes and sophomore Luke Lundstrom join the back line this season.
“Even though we lost a few senior leaders, I feel like defense again will be one of our strong areas, especially our center core defense,” said Smith, whose team opens Thursday night (Aug. 23) at Elk River. “We have some new kids who are playing the outer wings that are trying to get acclimated to the speed of varsity soccer ... I feel confident with our defensive line at the moment.”
Senior Brandon Hedlund and sophomore Joe Anderholm will be the keepers. Hedlund compiled a 2.82 goals per game average and recorded two shutouts in 2011.
“They’re competing with each other,” Smith said. “It’s one of those races where they can learn from each other. It’s great competition for them. They’re also good friends.
“Each has skill sets that make them a better keeper than the other one. I think we’re going to go with Brandon right now just because of his experience. He’s just a little bit more comfortable coming outside of the goal and playing farther outside of the net.”
The Warriors are loaded with midfielders. led by Campbell, the leading returning scorer with four goals and one assist. Other midfielders are Solheim and fellow juniors Clark Hickman and Josh Wasniewski and sophomores Cole Babcock, Isaiah Gilderman and Taylor Schloemer.
“Any one of them can step up from a midfielder role to a striker role,” Smith said. “We’re heavy on midfielders. It’s a coach’s dream for me. Our center core is strong but they’re able to play multiple positions. If an attacker gets hurt, we won’t be in panic mode because we have only one on the bench.”
Senior Chris Zeppetelle, junior Kale Wurdeman (from Pequot Lakes) and sophomore Corey Tollefsrud are leading candidates to be strikers. Campbell and Wurdeman are likely to see action as strikers as well.
“It’s one area we’re still trying to develop chemistry, we’re still trying to find the right pieces,” Smith said. “When we lost Tylor Bouchard last year there were collective gasps of ‘Oh no.’ We had to scramble to fill that role. ... It’s better when our forwards understand what we want instead of me yelling it from the sidelines and telling them where they should be.
“I’m trying to be a better coach, explain to our forwards how to work to be better. Four or five are in the mix. Each has his own skill set of what they do well. We’re trying to find a complement between two players.”
Smith was pleased with the progress the team made at its scrimmage with alumni Aug. 17 and a scrimmage Monday at Grand Rapids against multiple teams.
“I thought we played very sound defense,” he said. “When we asked them to attack they were attacking as team. We’ve got a strong core.”
The Warriors most raise their offensive production. Last season they were outscored 45-12.
“The question is can we start producing?” Smith said. “That’s our biggest area of concern. Can we put goals in the back of the net? As we do that, the confidence goes up, the energy goes up, and hopefully the win totals go up.”
Seniors: Adam Bouchard (D), Brayden Campbell (MF), Marcus Comstock (D), Garrett Haglin (D), Brandon Hedlund (K), Chris Zeppetelle (S)
Juniors: Josh Garber (D), Clark Hickman (MF), David Hughes (D), Nicholas Solheim (MF), Josh Wasniewski (MF), Kale Wurdeman (MF)
Sophomores: Joe Anderholm (K), Cole Babcock (MF), Isaiah Gilderman (MF), Luke Lundstrom (D), Taylor Schloemer (MF), Corey Tollefsrud (S)
Mike Bialka, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.