After enjoying the most successful season in program history, the Brainerd Warrior girls' soccer team has many goals remaining.
Foremost is to win its first Central Lakes Conference championship.
"That's on everyone's mind," Brainerd coach Steve Kimble said, "but it's going to be difficult.
"Our underclassmen are some seriously competitive kids. They are winners. They haven't been involved in anything other than a winning program. Our junior varsity players have been like 14-2, 15-1.
"Some of our upperclassmen still remember getting beat up. It would be extremely nice to have kids in the program travel full circle. It would be nice for these seniors, on the way out, to win a conference title, to see the length of the road. It would put these underclassmen in position to keep going with it. If you win one it makes the next one a little easier, hopefully."
Brainerd finished 13-5 last season, the most wins in program history, and won a section playoff game for the first time.
The Warriors return considerable firepower and should be solid on defense while introducing a new goalie to varsity soccer.
Offensively, senior forward and leading scorer Jenny Beilke returns.
"She was the conference's leading scorer," Kimble said. "I don't think anybody keeps track of that other than me and a couple other people. She had 16 goals and eight assists. Her 16 goals are a school high."
Junior forward Danielle Uphoff, who had 8 goals and 12 points, is back.
"Dani's goals and assists aren't as high as others but she's really the motor and creator up front in the attack," Kimble said. "The way we play this year she will be more, hopefully, of a goal scorer, and have a couple other people doing the dishing and serving."
Kimble also anticipates offensive contributions from junior forward Aani Rangen (1-4) and from senior midfielders Joyce Hendricks (4-5), Ally Hartje (6-3) and Taylor Hartje (3-9).
"Taylor and Ally are so strong," Kimble said. "They can hit a laser from anywhere on the field. Within 25 yards, if I was a keeper, I would wake up a little bit."
In goal, Kimble projects junior Melissa Hanson as the starter. He believes Hanson will continue the tradition of solid goalkeeping started by predecessors like Kate Bjornson and Becka Gellert. The latter allowed only 19 goals last season.
"We've had our eye on Melissa a number of years," Kimble said. "We're hoping Melissa steps in and plays her game. She will be phenomenal if she just plays the way she can."
Defensively, Kimble expects the Warriors to be led by junior Beth Sexton and senior Sarah Gervais.
Sexton, entering her third varsity season, contributed two goals and five points.
"Beth shut down some of the best forwards in the conference (as a freshman)," Kimble said. "Last year she moved around a little bit. She had some health concerns, but she was still solid, maybe not as good a year as she thought she should have. I think she's ready to go. She's stronger, faster, and just as good with the ball, if not better."
Gervais joined the program as a junior.
"We know from Sarah's swimming career that she's as good an athlete as anybody we've got," Kimble said. "She's picking up soccer well. She was concerned about her ballhandling and her skills but that doesn't seem to be a factor. She's crammed in a lot of hours to get her ballhandling where it needs to be. She's worked extremely hard this summer in LAYSA and our skills clinics."
Kimble said the program has progressed to the point where freshmen may not have to complete the roster. The exception this year, he believes, will be freshman defender Jessica Bye.
"We're always going to be an older varsity, hopefully from now on, but I've got to give Jessie Bye a shot," Kimble said. "Anybody who's seen Jessie play knows she's an example of work ethic. If we could instill her work ethic in all of our kids we would go somewhere. She has flat out worked her way into that position. I can't not give her a shot because she's worked so hard."
Seniors -- Jennifer Beilke (F), Joyce Hendricks (M), Ally Hartje (M), Taylor Hartje (M), Sarah Gervais (D)
Juniors -- Beth Sexton (M), Danielle Uphoff (F), Aani Rangen (F), Chelsey Smith (M), Emily Lorenz, Sarah Eiesland
Sophomore -- Laura Baden (F)
Freshman -- Jessica Bye (D)
Junior -- Melissa Hanson (G).
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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