There was increased energy at the Brainerd High School gym Tuesday.
Fan appreciation night helped as loads of Brainerd students were in attendance, but that wasn’t it.
No, the added bounce in Brainerd’s step was generated because of the opponent.
The Alexandria Cardinals were in town and brought with them a 12-match win streak against the Warriors. The last time Brainerd beat Alexandria was Sept. 11, 2003. That victory snapped Alex’s 38-straight win streak against Brainerd.
And, after an emotional and exciting Game One loss, the Cardinals improved their winning streak to 13 matches.
As thrilling as Brainerd’s 28-26 Game One win was, the next three were as decisive. Alexandria won the next three games 25-12, 25-15 and 25-17 to improve its Central Lakes Conference-leading record to 5-1.
“We just needed to make some adjustments,” said Alexandria head coach Becky Schlichting. “Their middle hitter was a very strong hitter so we adjusted a few things on our side that would set us up to be more successful defensively. It worked really well for us.”
Alexandria’s hitters made things uncomfortable for Brainerd. Junior Amanda Christianson led the Cardinals with 15 kills. Junior middle hitter Emily Kuennen tallied nine, senior middle Tara LeBrassuer finished with seven and Adrianne Wensman posted six kills. Alexandria setters Allie Noetzelman and Nicole Canavati weren’t required to move much, which is what Brainerd head coach Jared Diem applauded.
“This might have been the best serve-receive night I’ve ever watched a team do,” Diem said about Alexandria’s effort. “I can’t remember too many balls that weren’t right to the setter. Right to them. When that happens, their whole offense is going to be doing all the fun stuff.”
After Brainerd tied Game Two 9-9, the Cardinals rattled off 10 of the next 12 points for a 19-11 edge. Alex finished it off with a 6-1 run for the win.
The Cardinals jumped out to a 15-4 lead to start Game Three. Brainerd closed to 18-13 before Alex put the game away.
In Game Four, Brainerd hung around until the Cardinals turned a 19-13 lead into a 25-17 win.
“This was really important for us because over the years Brainerd has really become a rival of ours and that’s new for them,” said Schlichting. “That’s props to their program and the work Jared has done here.
“We just knew coming in here that we needed to get this win. It was big. It’s a two-point match and Brainerd is doing well so this will be a huge confidence booster for us.”
Brainerd’s Tedi Ramberg registered 16 kills and 2.5 blocks. Courtney Ryan added eight kills and 10 digs. Taylor Johnshoy finished with six kills and nine digs.
Hannah Kangas added 17 set assists and Jenna Degen posted 14 set assists and five digs.
“Alexandria is very old,” said Diem. “Most of their girls are seniors. We have three sophomores and a freshman in big-play positions and they’re going up against three-year starters. (Alex is) a very seasoned, veteran team. They play like old people. They tip well. They talk well. They have great ballhandling and that really showed tonight.
“We’ll learn from this and we’ll become better from this. Even though it wasn’t fun losing to Alexandria, I know my players learned a lot from seeing them on the court.”
Alexandria 26 25 25 25
Brainerd 28 12 15 17
Mikaela Chandler 4 kills, 2 digs, 1 block, 1 set assist
Jenna Degen 1 kill, 1 ace serve, 5 digs, 1.5 blocks, 14 set assists
Madison Stall 9 digs
Hannah Kangas 2 kills, 1 ace serve, 3 digs, 17 set assists
Heather Fletcher 5 kills, 1 dig, 2 blocks
Courtney Ryan 8 kills, 10 digs, 2 blocks
Tedi Ramberg 16 kills, 1 dig, 2.5 blocks
Taylor Johnshoy 6 kills, 9 digs, 1 block