Building a program takes time and coach Jared Diem has the Brainerd Warriors pointed in the right direction.
Diem’s rebuilding project turned the corner in 2011. Brainerd compiled a 10-2 mark in the Central Lakes Conference, finishing second behind champion Fergus Falls. It was the first time the Warriors had won 10 CLC matches since 2003.
Brainerd finished 19-12 overall, its first winning season under Diem, and won 19 matches for the first time since 2003. Brainerd also won a Section 8-3A match for the second straight year, before losing to Fergus Falls in the semifinals.
Six starters return, the most Diem’s ever had, as the Warriors prepare to host Pequot Lakes in their opener Tuesday night (Aug. 28).
“We have power hitters at every position, which I’ve never had either,” Diem said. “Offensively, if we can pass the ball well, we have multiple options.
“About 60 percent of our offense ran through Sydnie Mauch last year. Now, we have a much more balanced attack. We don’t have to rely on one player to do all that to hold the team up.
“This is the team, when I started coaching, they were the top players in middle school, so I’ve been coaching them a long time. The trust that we have as a team, the belief in the team concept, is an everyday occurrence with these girls. They don’t take themselves too seriously, but when they step on the volleyball court they’re confident, they’re aggressive, they’re explosive. They really work hard at being the best they can be, for themselves and for the team.”
The starting contingent includes seniors Hannah Kangas, Courtney Ryan, Taylor Johnshoy, Mikaela Chandler, and juniors Tedi Ramberg and Jenna Degen.
Kangas, a two-year starter, was an all-conference selection in 2011 as a setter.
“Hannah had 709 set assists,” Diem said. “The year before she wasn’t the even the setter, she was a defensive specialist, so coming in her first year and getting 709 set assists is something to be really proud of. It shows how valuable and adaptable she is at changing positions, embracing that role and excelling at it.
“She quietly leads our team, and she’s definitely one of the best servers I’ve ever had.”
Ryan, a two-time winner of the Sertoma Sunrise Warrior Liftathon, received all-conference honorable mention as a junior.
“Courtney is our outside power,” Diem said, “and she’s a great defensive player. She has a really good vertical leap, it varies from 28 to 30 inches on any given day from a standing jump, which makes her able to do a lot of things other girls can’t because she’s hanging up there and has a lot more options.
“She’s very competitive. You want players who are competitive in practice. Courtney leads our practice climate and elevates it to the point that it gets all the girls fired up.”
Johnshoy also received all-conference honorable mention as a junior.
“Taylor, every year, she gets better, including this year,” Diem said. “That in itself is a huge compliment to her. Not many girls make big gains every year. She’s our strongest support player. Our emotional leader.
“She’s just encouraging, encouraging, encouraging constantly. Aside from her skill, it makes her an invaluable court player.”
Chandler returns at an outside hitter position.
“She’s a rare player who can play any position,” Diem said. “She’s got the height for a middle, the hands for setting, and the explosiveness to play outside. Watch out when she hits the ball.
“She’s just fun to be around, a fun kid to have on your court. She makes light of situations that sometimes get bigger than they need to.”
Ramberg, Diem said, has improved at doing the “little things.”
“Last year she did the big things well, like block and hit,” Diem said. “This year she really worked on her serving and ball placement, and out of system balls.
“I can’t say enough good things about Tedi. She lets things roll off her shoulders. She’s really good at moving on to the next play, good or bad. She’s all business. Every play she focuses on the next play. That’s something a coach can’t coach.”
Degen, who moves to a setting position this fall, rounds out the contingent of returning starters.
“Jenna worked really hard in the offseason getting ready for the setter position,” Diem said. “As a setter, there are so many things she’s had to learn and she’s done a fantastic job of earning spot. She’s a hard hitter from the right side as well.
“She’s very quick. and she will add so much to our defense with her speed as well as her serving.”
Sophomore Heather Fletcher is also ticketed to start.
“I set a goal for her to make a giant gain in the offseason, to make Mauch’s role her own, and she did,” Diem said. “She’s just improved by leaps and bounds. She has a great work ethic, and a great desire to be better. The sky’s the limit with Heather’s goal setting.”
The Warriors will change their offense, running a 6-2 rotation this season with two setters.
“We will always have three hitters in the front row, and Jenna and Hannah will be the setters,” Diem said. I have always wanted to run a 6-2 but haven’t had all the pieces to do it.”
Diem is still searching for a defensive stopper. He expects one to emerge from freshman Maddy Stall and juniors Maddi Brown, Paige Rivers and Faith Kassulker.
“We have a lot of depth on defense, which is a wonderful problem,” he said. “This season we’re really looking to see which of our defensive players is going to take that role, and own that role. I look forward to seeing those four duke it out.”
Brainerd again will compete in Section 8-3A with Alexandria, defending champion Bemidji, Big Lake, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Monticello, Moorhead, Rocori, St. Cloud Apollo and Tech, Sartell and Sauk Rapids.
“We’re in the toughest section outside the Twin Cities,” Diem said. “What I always look forward to is the competition. I know we’re going to have great games every night.
“Last year there was no definite team that was favored to win, aside from probably Fergus Falls. There weren’t any teams that had that swagger coming in.
“What I want my team to do this year, now that we’ve been winning, is believe they can win every game and come into that game with the confidence that, yeah, we’re a quality team and we can play with the best of them and beat the best of them.”
Seniors: Captain-Courtney Ryan (OH), Captain-Taylor Johnshoy (OH), Mikaela Chandler (OH), Captain-Hannah Kangas (S).
Juniors: Maddi Brown (DS), Paige Rivers (DS), Faith Kassulker (OS).
Sophomores: Tedi Ramberg (MH), Heather Fletcher (MH), Jenna Degen (S/OH), Katy Johnson (OH), Amy Southard (OH).
Freshman: Maddy Stall (S).
Mike Bialka, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.