A storm blew through the Brainerd High School gym Friday night in the form of the Sauk Rapids volleyball team.
And, the end result was an untimely exit from the playoffs for the Brainerd Warriors.
The fifth-seeded Warriors hosted the fourth-seeded Sauk Rapids Storm in the quarterfinals of the South Subsection 8, Class 3A tournament.
The Storm took advantage of Brainerd miscues and Sauk Rapids outside hitters Kristen Hille and Faylynn Merrick led them to a 15-11, 13-15, 15-10, 15-9 win.
Brainerd Warriors coach Lori Dean reacted when the Warriors started falling behind early in their second game against the Sauk Rapids Storm in the South Sub-Section 8AAA quarterfinal tournament game Friday night. (Dispatch Photos by Clint Wood)
"Brainerd is a very good team and they play great defense," Storm coach Paul Meyer said. "When they get their home crowd behind them, and that energy going, they can be very tough.
"We had leads every game and they just kept battling, battling, battling. I feel very fortunate to get a win."
In all four games, the Warriors found themselves staring at a deficit, which would prove to be their undoing.
"It's hard to come back against someone that's playing as well as Sauk Rapids," Warriors coach Lori Dean said. "It's tough to get down in the beginning and fight your way back.
Brainerd junior hitter Haley Bower (22) found an open net as she hit the ball away from the block of Kelsey Steuber of the Sauk Rapids Storm.
"But our motto has been to get everything off the floor. That energizes us and motivates us. We did have a lot of heart and a lot of fight."
In all four games, Brainerd showed its heart, scratching and clawing its way back into the games.
After dropping the first game, the Warriors found themselves trailing the pivotal second game 12-8, then rattled off six unanswered points to take a 14-12 lead. The Warriors claimed victory on a Megan Arns block.
Arns was one of the big reasons the Warriors stayed in every game. The junior had 13 kills, 16 digs and three blocks, in a quiet, but dominating effort.
Also helping the Warriors out was junior Maria Swanson, who churned out six kills and was a force at the net as she notched six blocks.
"Megan is a rock," Dean said. "She's very consistent and she gets everywhere on the floor.
"Maria played level-headed. She just went at it aggressively. She owned the net and that opened the outside for us too."
In the final two games, the Warriors found themselves staring at 13-5 deficits . Each time they crawled back into the games and gave the Storm a run for their money.
But, in both games, the play of Merrick and Hille surfaced when Sauk Rapids needed it to close out the wins for the Storm.
One regret Dean had was that she won't have another year with the Warriors' five seniors.
"Those seniors had a lot of heart," said Dean. "They taught us so much in leadership and how to want it. They were a great group to work with. I really wish I had another year to know them. They're a fantastic group of girls."
But the Warriors' program does show promise on the horizon. They will return three starters, setter Lauren Kirkpatrick, Arns and Haley Bower, as well as Swanson and Nikki Dehen, who both logged minutes off the bench.
"We have a great group coming back," said Dean. "We have some offseason work to do in order to build depth but this is a fantastic group of juniors. It's an exciting and bright future for us."
Brooke Rollins 8 kills, 3 ace serves, 15 digs
Megan Arns 13 kills, 3 blocks, 2 ace serves, 16 digs
Maria Swanson 6 kills, 6 blocks, 2 digs
Ashley Widmark 2 kills, 1 block, 8 digs
Haley Bower 5 kills, 2 blocks, 23 digs
Megan Eastman 5 digs
Leigha Walters 3 digs
Overall -- Brainerd finishes 17-11.
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