Chelsea Brewster is committed to her sport and her studies.
The Mitchell High School volleyball senior capped her prep career by helping the Kernels take the consolation championship and fifth place at the Class AA state tournament in Sioux Falls.
The outside hitter shined in her final season, finishing with team-highs in kills (338), digs (340) and aces (44). Brewster-along with senior setter Mandy Schmidt-never left the court for the Kernels and she produced all season.
"One thing about Chelsea is that she's really upped her game," Mitchell coach Deb Thill said. "Especially back-row play this year for us and she was our go-to hitter. Her and Mandy were in the game the whole time. So obviously when you are on the floor that much, you have to be a go-to player and you have to be somebody that the team can count on and she did a great deal of that this season for us."
Brewster's play led to her being named The Daily Republic volleyball player of the year in 2018. Brewster is the 19th recipient of the award, which is voted upon by the newspaper's sports staff, and she's the eighth Kernel to win the award. Other area players to receive consideration are fellow Kernels Mandy Schmidt and Mackenzie Miller (last year's winner), Burke's Taylee Indahl, McCook Central/Montrose's McKenna Kranz, Winner's Morgan Hammerbeck and Ethan's Karly Gustafson.
Brewster finished her Kernel career with 1,032 kills and is one of four players in program history to reach that milestone, joining Miller, Taylin Alm and Dana Misiaszek. Brewster tallied 849 digs, 126 total blocks and 82 aces in her career.
And just as impressive is Brewster's commitment to succeed in the classroom. She's active in student council, National Honor Society and Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA).
She recently signed to play volleyball at NCAA Division II South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and will major in applied biological sciences. She will study to be an anesthesiologist.
"Going to college and being a college athlete is a full-time job," Thill said. "She is very focused and determined to succeed in volleyball and in college. I think she's got the right attitude and she always has. I think she will be very successful there."
Brewster, who maintains a 3.95 grade point average, is looking forward to the challenge of attending the university with high academic standards.
"Academically, it's going to be a challenge," Brewster said. "But I am always up for a challenge. I think if I can make it through those four years, I will definitely be able to do exactly what I want to do with my life."
Closing a strong career
Brewster was one of 11 seniors-the most in Thill's coaching tenure-for the Kernels this season. Thill has coached them all since they were fifth graders, and immediately realized Brewster's potential. She said she remembered how athletic and how good Brewster was with her hands.
"At that age, you want them to develop all the skills and I have always been a believer in that," Thill said. "Because for her that's showed up now and she could be a setter. She could be a (defensive specialist). She could do it all."
But her best position turned out to be an outside hitter, and the 5-foot-11 Brewster produced as a Kernel. Thill said Brewster was best suited for the position because of her athleticism and her ability to react at the net.
"You have to be very quick and be able to adjust to sets a lot," Thill said. "Because depending on passing-Mandy is an intelligent setter-but depending on what kind of pass we got, sometimes we had to be able to adjust."
From a team standpoint, the Kernels rattled off two straight wins after falling in the opening round of the Class AA state tournament.
"After losing that first game, we talked about how that was our goal and to achieve that was really special," Brewster said.
The Kernels lost to Sioux Falls O'Gorman in the first round, but knocked off Sioux Falls Roosevelt and Brookings to claim the consolation title. During the three-match tournament, Brewster led the Kernels in kills (46) and digs (37). She was named to the Class AA all-tournament team.
The Kernels and their 11 seniors racked up 56 wins over the past three seasons.
"It's been really great playing with them for as long as I have been able to," Brewster said. "I think that since we started at such a young age, it's just gotten more and more special every year. This year was definitely like the best finale possible for all of us. I think we all could agree on that. It was a lot of fun."
And just like Brewster, the group is committed to their academics. Thill said 10 of the 11 will be named academic all-state and the cumulative GPA for the varsity is a 3.8.
"We care about volleyball and about being great students," Brewster said. "I think we all understand that it's really important and it will help us in the long run."
Up next, Brewster will continue to stay committed to her volleyball craft. She does not plan on playing basketball this winter, but instead will play with Kairos Elite Volleyball-a traveling team based out of Sioux Falls. The team will play in tournaments in Nebraska, Kentucky, Missouri, Minnesota and Florida.
"It just kind of helps players stay in the groove and it's super fun," Brewster said. "It's great coaching. I think it will prepare me for the next level."
Thill believes Brewster is just scratching the surface on the volleyball court and will continue to succeed in the classroom.
"She is just going to keep getting better and better," Thill said. "... She's just an overall really good student and good athlete."
Here's more on the other area standouts to be considered for the award, with the vote-point totals in parentheses:
Indahl (15): A junior outside hitter, Indahl keyed her Cougars' squad to the state tournament for the second consecutive season in Class B, finishing in fifth place. Indahl had 554 kills, good for nearly five kills per set, along with 67 aces, 34 blocks and 420 digs. Indahl has 1,517 kills and 1,215 digs in her career. In three matches at the state tournament, the 5-foot-9 Indahl had 42 kills and 35 digs to land on the all-tournament team for a second straight year.
Schmidt (7): Becoming the program's all-time leader in set assists in a career, Schmidt had another big season for the Kernels with 860 assists, 26 aces, 256 digs and 29 kills. In three matches at the state tournament, the 5-foot-5 Schmidt had 111 assists, surpassing 3,000 for her career in her final match.
Kranz (7): Kranz had 249 kills during a stellar regular season for the Fighting Cougars, while posting 37 aces and 336 digs. Her effort led MCM back to the state tournament for a second straight year and helped the team to third place at the Class A state tournament.
Hammerbeck (6): A 5-foot-11 junior outside hitter, Hammerbeck helped the Warriors to the state tournament, in part because of her ability to attack the net. Hammerbeck had a team-best 361 kills entering the state tournament, along with 50 aces and 349 digs. She logged 66 kills and 52 digs in three matches at the state tournament, including 37 kills and 30 digs in a five-set loss to Parker in the Class A fifth-place match.
Gustafson (4): A senior middle hitter, Gustafson entered the state tournament with 285 kills, 68 aces and 54 blocks, and she added 27 kills and six blocks at the Class B state tournament, in which the Rustlers finished seventh.
Miller (3): Miller rebounded quickly from a knee injury late in the basketball season to return to the court in mid-September and delivered a needed boost for the Kernels from her outside hitter position. Miller had 206 kills, 38 blocks and 110 digs while thriving at the Class AA state tournament. In three matches at the state tournament, the 6-foot-1 senior Miller had 40 kills, including 22 in the final match, a fifth-place win over Brookings. Miller also became the school's all-time leader in kills with 1,189.
Past players of the year
2001 - Marcy Jacobsen, Mitchell; 2002 (winter) - Chelaine Knudsen, Andes Central; 2002 (fall) - Chelsey Miller, Mitchell; (*Note: 2002 season switch) 2003 - Katrina Brooks, Andes Central; 2004 - Gina Baldwin, Mitchell; 2005 - Kelli Fiegen, Parkston; 2006 - Jena Doom, Wagner; 2007 - Kelli Fiegen, Parkston; 2008 - Keaya Weber, Wagner; 2009 - Jilanne Doom, Wagner; 2010 - Charlee Nelson, Mitchell; 2011 - Dana Misiaszek, Mitchell; 2012 - Taylin Alm, Mitchell; 2013 - Anna Flitner, Lyman; 2014 - Makaela Karst, Mount Vernon/Plankinton; 2015 - Makaela Karst, Mount Vernon/Plankinton; 2016 - Sierra Mesman, Bon Homme; 2017 - Mackenzie Miller, Mitchell; 2018 - Chelsea Brewster, Mitchell.