While the story of the winter season so far may be the Brainerd High School boys' basketball team's best start in 37 years, the 11-4-1 record compiled by the Warrior girls' hockey team can't rank far behind.
After graduating their leading scorer (Megan Whalen) and one of their top goalies (Sarah Johnson), both of whom had been with the program since its inception six years ago, the Warriors were possibly looking at reloading this winter.
But that hasn't been the case. Five-year varsity goalie Mandy Hanson has been outstanding, playing all 16 games with a 1.67 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
Erin Holznagel, the second-leading scorer last season, has moved from center to defense. While anchoring the defense in front of Hanson, Holznagel leads the team in scoring with 12 goals and 22 points. Samantha Welle and Abby Rehberger, the second- and third-leading scorers last season, have contributed 17 and 13 points. Senior Hannah Impola, a solid blue-liner, has contributed 15 points.
First-year head coach Jim Ernster concedes this season's success has been somewhat of a surprise.
"In the last two or three years we've lost quite a number of girls, Natalie Dunphy two years ago and Megan Whalen last year," Ernster said. "And, there have been a ton of role players that we lost. We weren't sure how quickly girls would step up and fulfill those roles, but we've got those roles filled. It's probably been a little bit surprising how some of our younger girls have stepped forward and played. That has allowed us to compete each and every night.
"Combine that with outstanding goaltending and it makes it much easier to compete on a night-in and night-out basis."
The Warriors will receive one of their most stringent tests of the season tonight when they host St. Cloud Tech. The Tigers lead the conference with a 9-0-0 mark and are 15-3-1 overall. Brainerd is second (6-3-0) in conference play.
"It's a big one," Ernster said of the game against Tech. "If we want to compete and have a chance for the conference title we need to knock off Tech."
Boys hockey -- The Warriors (4-5-1) are at St. Cloud Tech (9-2-0) tonight, host Minnehaha Academy 4 p.m. Saturday and are at Grand Rapids Tuesday.
Gymnastics -- The unbeaten and fourth-ranked Warriors (5-0) host Sartell (2-2) tonight and compete at the Lakeville Invitational Saturday.
Swimming and diving -- Brainerd (2-0) hosts Alexandria (1-2) tonight, competes at the University of Minnesota Invitational Saturday and hosts a triangular with Bemidji and Grand Rapids Tuesday.
Wrestling -- The Warriors (4-3) host Little Falls (8-7) tonight, compete in the Kiffmeyer Duals Saturday at St. Cloud Tech and are at Alexandria (7-3) Tuesday.
Nordic skiing -- Brainerd is scheduled to ski at Detroit Lakes today. The Little Falls Invitational at Camp Ripley Tuesday has been canceled. Four of Brainerd's first six meets have been canceled. The Warrior boys are ranked ninth in the state.
Floor hockey -- The Warriors open the season tonight against White Bear Lake at Riverside Elementary.
Alpine skiing -- Brainerd skis in the Cook County Invitational at Lutsen today.
Boys basketball -- The Warriors (8-3) host talented Sauk Rapids (8-2) Friday. The Storm's front line includes 6-6 Trevor Jempa, 6-9 Jeff Hille and 6-6 Jon Botz. Other Storm starters are 6-2 Joe Swecker and 6-1 Joe Cloeter.
Girls basketball -- Brainerd (6-6) hosts Grand Rapids Saturday night and is at Sartell (7-6) Tuesday.
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