The Brainerd Warriors volleyball team won only one of 13 Central Lakes Conference matches in 2004, just eight of 27 overall.
With five talented, experienced senior starters returning, along with size and depth, that record has the potential to be reversed this season.
Brainerd returns 5-foot-11 all-conference middle hitter Paige Olson and 6-foot middle hitter Kylie Abrahamson. Outside hitters Kelsey Rassatt, Hannah Fossum and Joetta Johnson round out a cast of power hitters.
Co-captains of the Brainerd High School volleyball team are seniors Paige Olson (left) and Joetta Johnson.
"We expect to have a more balanced offense with the experience we have coming back," Warriors coach Lori Dean said. "One of the things we want to do is run a lot of stuff through our middles, Kylie and Paige. Looking at those girls they're going to make a powerful statement at the net, also with their blocking and quickness. We expect our defense will be stronger with better blocking."
Olson led the team with 42 aces, 238 kills and 78 blocks.
"Paige seems to be able to have an overdrive gear, kick it into the next level, which you love to see in big players who can really pour it on," Dean said. "She's going to be someone other teams will try to shut down, who they focus on.
Head coach -- Lori Dean, 16th year (fourth at Brainerd, 12 at Northside Christian School, St. Petersburg, Fla.)
Brainerd record -- 44-39 (.530)
2004 finish -- 1-12 CLC, 8-19 overall
Returning starters -- Paige Olson, Joetta Johnson, Kylie Abrahamson, Hannah Fossum, Kelsey Rassatt.
Assistant coaches -- Carla Stall, Mary Miller.
SEPTEMBER 1 at Fergus Falls, 7:30 p.m.
6 WILLMAR, 7:30 p.m.
8 at Sauk Rapids-Rice, 7:30 p.m.
10 at Buffalo tournament, 9 a.m.
13 ST. CLOUD APOLLO, 7:30 p.m.
15 at Little Falls, 7:30 p.m.
20 at Pierz, 7:30 p.m.
22 ALEXANDRIA, 7:30 p.m.
24 at Pierz tournament, 9 a.m.
27 ROCORI, 7:30 p.m.
29 SARTELL, 7:30 p.m.
1 at Pierz, 9 a.m.
4 at St. Cloud Tech, 7:30 p.m.
6 at Bemidji, 7:30 p.m.
8 at Cretin-Derham Hall tournament, TBA
11 at Willmar, 7:30 p.m.
13 SAUK RAPIDS-RICE, 7:30 p.m.
18 at St. Cloud Apollo, 7:30 p.m.
"Mentally, I think Paige will be able to handle that well. That might be bigger motivation for her. We're counting on big things from her. She will have a variety in her hitting."
Abrahamson had 125 digs, 71 kills, and 33 blocks.
"We've seen amazing improvement in Kylie," Dean said. "She's hitting with authority. I think she will be a nice surprise to everyone. It's awesome to have two powerful middles. There will be no backing off. The pressure will always be on.
"I even expect Kylie to have more dominance in her blocking game. I see aggression in Kylie and a love for the blocking game."
Dean is hoping Johnson can fill the libero position, which is primarily a defensive position. The libero can play anywhere on the court except the front row and can't serve.
Johnson (5-foot-3) had 143 digs last season and 40 kills.
"It really wasn't something we used last year," Dean said of the libero, "because we didn't feel we had the players to get the job done for us that way. It does take some things away from that person, like they can't serve and they can't back attack.
"Joetta will get everywhere. She has a very defensive head. She really sees that quickness and gets the job done. She also has the attitude too."
Fossum (5-8) had 167 digs and 102 kills. Rassatt had a team-high 187 digs and 98 kills.
"Hannah and Kelsey will test opponents as far as the shot selection they can offer," Dean said. "Those two we also can count on for serve receive, which every team depends on."
The Warriors will also depend on a new setter, 5-9 senior Jennifer Niklaus. She had 19 set assists last season.
"Jennifer's the new one in the rotation, but she's been with these girls all the way through," Dean said. "She's got a real knowledge of the game, and real good hands. We look forward to adding her to our chemistry."
Niki Gorvin, an outside hitter, is the other senior returning letterwinner. She had 20 digs last season.
Seniors: Kylie Abrahamson, middle hitter, 6-0; Hannah Fossum, outside hitter, 5-8; Niki Gorvin, outside, 5-8; Joetta Johnson, outside, 5-3; Jennifer Niklaus, setter, 5-9; Paige Olson, middle, 5-11; Kelsey Rassatt, outside, 5-7
Additional varsity players
Juniors: Britni Hynes, outside, 6-0; Anna Johnson, setter, 5-7; Kelsey McDowell, outside, 5-5; Shannon McGuire, outside, 5-11; Ashley Olson, middle, 5-10
MIKE BIALKA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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