Relax will be a commonly used word this winter.
Brainerd Warriors head coach Brian McAllister will be saying it often in the early part of the season as his young and inexperienced squad faces a brutal opening stretch of games.
The Warriors will be on the road for the first three games and five of their first seven. Their first game will be Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Sartell against a Sabres team that will have already played three games. Little Falls, Brainerd’s second opponent, will have already played four games.
Throw into the mix that Brainerd returns just two starters and has just three players that aren’t sophomores.
“I tried to get some of those games switched, but that will be a brutal way to open the season with a young team,” said McAllister. “Our January is also brutal. We’ll have six games that will be back-to-back and with a young team it’s hard to get them on the same page without having a practice in between. You still play, but it makes it harder.”
McAllister will lean heavily on his two returning starters, Taylor Johnshoy and Maria West.
Johnshoy, a senior guard, averaged 4.5 points and about one rebound and one assist a game. She shot 42.3 percent from the field.
West, a junior guard, averaged 6.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.0 assists a game.
“Last year, Maria and Taylor were role players,” said McAllister. “They filled in where we needed them to. I told them already, this is their team. They both have a full year of varsity experience. This is their team and they’ll need to help us through some rough patches that will come with the young players we have playing. They will be the leaders of this team.”
Heather Jaeche is a senior forward, who played in six games last season. She’ll start at forward and is a co-captain with West and Johnshoy.
“She’s worked pretty hard this summer and this fall and she’s improved her skills quite a bit from last year,” McAllister said of Jaeche. “After her, it’s all sophomores. The good thing about it is they have pretty decent skills. They’re all decent dribblers, decent shooters and some will play better defense than others, but they’ll learn.
“We’ll have some growing pains, but they’ll play hard. It’s a big jump from freshmen basketball to varsity, though.”
Jenna Degen, will be called on to try to replace three-year starter Kayla Kraemer at point and Heather Fletcher will be the fifth starter.
Degen saw limited time in 16 games last season. She scored 23 points. Fletcher scored five points in three games.
“Jenna is by far our best ball-handler and one of the quickest kids on the team,” said McAllister. “She’s a good outside shooter if she has time. With her ball-handling and quickness she can get through some traps, but it will be a big step for her.
“Heather has worked hard the last couple of years to get better. She needs to keep working on a bunch of little things, like footwork and being more physical inside. She’ll be going up against some big girls this season and you can’t play soft.”
One sophomore McAllister will be without is Tedi Ramberg, who played in 19 games last season and was the fifth-leading scorer with 82 points. She was third on the team in rebounds with 104. Ramberg was injured during the volleyball season and will miss the entire basketball season.
McAllister is hoping for some offensive outbursts out of Kate Johnson and Amy Southard off the bench and he said Mikinze Boeder has impressed during Brainerd’s preseason scrimmages.
McAllister said the key, however, will be if this team can maintain its composure.
“I think this team just needs to relax and play,” he said. “They all seem to get along and play well together. This sophomore crew has been playing together since fourth grade.
“We’ll run the floor well and we just need to relax and play and get some confidence right away. When we get nervous we don’t play well. We just have to relax and play.”