There is an important question surrounding this year’s Brainerd Warriors.
It may take time to answer, but that answer will determine the level of success this year’s Warriors enjoy.
Last season, Brainerd finished 7-1, won the Central Lakes Conference and placed second in the Section 8-2A meet. Nine Warriors advanced to the state meet leading Brainerd to 22nd.
Four of those state swimmers either graduated or moved out of the school district, which leads back to the question Brainerd Warriors head coach John Zemke has — Who is going to step up?
“In the past, we’ve had a lot of depth,” said Zemke, who enters his 16th season. “I don’t see as much depth this year on this team. Across the board, if you look at our top two spots we look really strong. Hopefully we can get some points out of younger members. We’ll be a decent dual-meet team. But we’ll have tough competition from Sartell, St. Cloud Tech and Alexandria. Those three appear to be the strongest teams in the conference right now.”
Brainerd opens the season at Alexandria Tuesday and then hosts St. Cloud Tech Thursday.
Brainerd will rely on its five state returners. Seniors Josh McKeag and Luke Jacobsen return and will captain this year’s team. McKeag placed 16th in the 100-yard butterfly at state and also advanced in the backstroke. He, Jacobsen, Junior Joe Wells and Justin Warling, who moved out of the district, finished 10th in the 200 medley relay last season with a 1:40.34.
“Josh looks great in practice,” Zemke said. “He’s 15 to 20 pounds heavier from lifting weights all offseason. He’s looking great in the water and we’re excited to see what he does his senior season.
“Luke also spent a lot of time lifting weights. He looks good and he even looks taller than he did last year. We’re counting on all of our seniors to get us through a touch conference schedule.”
Senior Trevor Vukelich returns as does junior Justin Kuglin.
Kuglin swam on the 200 and 400 free relays last year. He helped the 400 relay to 13th place at state.
Wells, Kuglin and Nick Goll will head a large group of juniors.
“Nick had a great sophomore season in the 200 and 500 freestyles,” Zemke said. “He was very close to going to state.
“Justin looks very confident and he’s the type of kid who can basically do any event. We can move him around and he’ll do a great job for us.”
Zemke expects Wells to succeed in the breaststroke and relays. Finding a second event between the butterfly or 200 individual medley will be a key.
“We have a big junior class and some of those juniors who haven’t swam a lot of varsity events are really going to have to start showing us something,” Zemke said. “We’ll need those sophomores and juniors to score points.”
Junior Joey Stromberg and sophomore David Supinski return from last year as does sophomore diver, Seth Murray, who placed 15th at last year’s state meet.
“As a sophomore Seth will be the leader of the divers,” said Zemke. “He had a great state meet last year and watching him in practice he’s getting a lot of height of the diving board. We’re excited for him this year. He’s one of the top three divers in the conference and section.”
Two freshmen hoping to build on successful rookie campaigns are Matthew Majerle and Peder Smith. Both scored many points as eighth graders and are versatile said Zemke.
Senior: Jed Smith, Joshua McKeag, Luke Jacobsen, Trevor Vukelich
Junior: Dan Larson, Garrett Moyer, Gus Askegaard, Jack Wickman, Jared Sachs, Joey Stromberg, Joe Wells, Joey Stromberg, Justin Kuglin, Matthew Wright, Troy Bialka
Sophomore: Cody Tusler, David Supinski, Devan Liebig, Jordan Kleist, Mitch Quall, Parker Fredrickson, Randy Clark, Seth Murray
Freshmen: Hanson Devine, Matthew Majerle, Peder Smith, Ronan Pritschet, Zach Rude
Seventh-grade: Preston Owen
Dec. 11, at Alexandria 6 p.m.
Dec. 13, St. Cloud Tech 6 p.m.
Dec. 18, at Willmar 6 p.m.
Dec. 27, Brainerd Invite 11:30 a.m.
Jan. 3, Sartell 6 p.m.
Jan. 5, Maroon and Gold Invite at U of M Noon
Jan. 10, at St. Cloud Apollo 6 p.m.
Jan. 15, vs. Rocori at Cold Spring 6 p.m.
Jan. 17, Fergus Falls
Jan. 19, Section 8-2A True Team meet at St. Cloud 2 p.m.
Jan. 31, Sauk Rapids
Feb. 7, Central Lakes Conference championship at Alexandria 6 p.m.
Feb. 9, Central Lakes Conference championship at Alexandria Noon