Volleyball: Brainerd’s JO team gets 3 wins at Nationals

Volleyball: Brainerd’s JO team gets 3 wins at Nationals

After missing out on the tournament last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brainerd’s Junior Olympics (JO) volleyball team got to play in the 2021 AAU National Volleyball Tournament June 26-29 in Orlando, Florida.

The team, coached by Dawn Genz, consists of 12 Brainerd Warrior high school players, including varsity returners like Kate Stadum and Meghan Smith.

“I take what we hope is the next varsity level — not the team — but that level to the AAU National Volleyball Tournament in Orlando,” Genz said. “I think the message I’m trying to have is that this is a building year for the program altogether. We have a lot of young players and the tournament itself is an opportunity to really get to know each other. It’s eat, sleep, volleyball.”

Brainerd played in the 17U Classic Division and played 14 games in the four days of competition. Brainerd won only three games during the week, but the experience means more than anything.

“Getting to experience Nationals in Orlando was everything I thought it was going to be,” Stadum said. “I was very sad when I wasn’t able to go last year because of COVID and that made me even more thankful to go on the trip this year. The volleyball part of the whole thing was a completely different experience on its own. It was such a cool atmosphere and I really enjoyed getting to play such high level teams.”

Smith added the week in Florida is something that she’ll never forget.

“We played at a higher level then we have all of our JO season and we became more confident when we realized we could actually play with these teams,” Smith said. “Even though we didn’t get as many wins as we should’ve, I think this tournament boosted our confidence knowing that we can play at a higher level and a higher intensity than we thought.”

Genz mentioned the team didn’t expect to come away with any hardware from Orlando, but highlighted that even though they lost a lot most of the games were close.

“From the first day to the last day they gained a lot of skill and learned to play with each other,” Genz said. “This team really came together and showed a lot of grit. Day Three we learned a lot from each other. We played three games, all of which went three games and we lost each one by two. You could see the whole team starting to gel.”

For Smith and Stadum, they both mentioned team bonding as a big reason why Nationals was a success.

“Our team definitely got closer in Orlando,” Stadium said. “There are so many great memories that we will carry with us, whether it’s teaching the coaches new terminology, getting ice cream in the rain, having dance parties and jam seshes, or running over curbs. I also learned so much more about each of my teammates and I got to see personalities come out that I had never seen before. The chemistry created at Nationals will definitely help us win more games in the regular season. I expect us to have a good season even with our young team.”

Smith added: “Our team grew stronger not only on but off the court. I’ve grown closer to all the girls on the team and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to go on this trip.”

Genz worked with Warrior head coach Rick Kuehlwein and sent him a film of their games in Orlando. According to Genz, his message was similar to hers about how the team played.

“Rick stays pretty close,” Genz said. “He watches all of the games and analyzes all of them. He says the same thing that we saw a lot of growth from this group over the last year and if they continue to work hard good things are going to happen.”

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