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2022 All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year: Grand Rapids’ Braya LaPlant makes ‘plays that are insane’

The Thunderhawks setter led her team to the state semifinals for the second consecutive year and was a Class AAA All-State selection.

Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant smiling while holding a volleyball.
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant smiles while holding a volleyball against the upper part of her right arm while posing in the gymnasium at Grand Rapids High School on Nov. 23. LaPlant is the 2022 News Tribune All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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GRAND RAPIDS — Earlier this fall, Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant started her move for a set near the net during an Oct. 4 game at Hermantown.

Instead of pushing the ball up for one of the Thunderhawks hitters, however, she lightly tapped the ball over the net for a kill.

Grand Rapids traveled to play an improved Hermantown team that had won 17 of its first 19 games, but with LaPlant’s ability to mystify defenses with what’s coming, the Thunderhawks swept the Hawks and went on to win their second consecutive Section 7AAA title.

110621.S.DNT.GRvsCloquetVB.C11.jpg
Grand Rapids sophomore Braya LaPlant (11) executes a jump set during the Thunderhawks' Section 7AAA volleyball championship match vs Cloquet on Nov. 6, 2021 in Hermantown.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

“She really adds to our attacking power and then it also keeps the other team guessing, they don’t know where it’s going,” Thunderhawks coach Rebekah Sutherland said after the game.

LaPlant recorded 830 assists this season and a Grand Rapids school-record 62 aces, while also recording 172 kills and hitting a .360 percentage.

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LaPlant led Grand Rapids to the Class AAA semifinals again this season, was named to the All-Lake Superior Conference and All-State teams and now she is the Duluth News Tribune’s 2022 All-Area Player of the Year.

“She has the most volleyball IQ or awareness that I’ve seen in somebody her age,” Sutherland said. “It just blows my mind every year and she gets even better. She’s somebody who makes plays that are insane — like insanely good.”

#10 AvaCarlson.jpg
Cloquet's Ava Carlson attacks the double block of Grand Rapids' Braya LaPlant (11) and Kate Jamtgaard (10) during the Section 7AAA volleyball championship match on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Hermantown High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal

A setter is essentially volleyball’s point guard, distributing the ball to hitters, but at 6 feet tall, LaPlant uses her height to create an attack and give opposing defenses fits.

“It takes a ton of work to get yourself in that neutral position and not give away what you’re going to do,” Cloquet coach Heidi Anderson said. “I think (LaPlant) does a good job of hiding which hitter she’s going to give the ball to. So there’s that and then there’s the fact that she can attack too, so it’s hard to play defense. She sees the floor well and what the other team is doing and then gets the ball to the hitter that needs it at that time.”

It’s not just that she sets the ball well or that she can find holes in a defense to attack. She’s certainly one of the best all-around players in the area, but despite a quiet demeanor, LaPlant has emerged as one of the Thunderhawks unquestioned leaders.

Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant extends her right arm while holding a volleyball
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant extends her right arm while holding a volleyball inside the gymnasium at Grand Rapids High School Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

“Braya is a little quiet, but with her dependability and the fact that she’s always working 110% in game, I think she is just a great leader — especially by example,” Sutherland said. “Everybody wants to follow what she’s doing, because she is giving her all and she is so competitive, she wants to win.”

That dependability is important to LaPlant in how she approaches the game, setting her teammates up for success.

Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant extends her right arm while holding a volleyball
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant extends her right arm while holding a volleyball inside the gymnasium at Grand Rapids High School Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

“Especially with my position as a setter, I feel like I want my hitters to do great and I want my defense to do great,” LaPlant said. “I know I need to do good in order for my teammates to success and I feel like that helps push me to be that dependable. If my defense just got a great dig, how can I get a great set for my hitter to put it away and get the point?”

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After two years of winning the section and three years as the Thunderhawks’ primary setter, LaPlant has developed a strong connection to her teammates on and off the court.

“We have a really good connection,” senior Kyra Giffen said. “This is my senior year, so going into every game I knew that I had to give it my all, especially at the start of the game because I have to set the tone. We all do, but especially at the beginning, I feel relied on to get a few swings and a few points right away. Instead of being pressured to do that, I feel confident because of mine and Braya’s connection.”

Grand Rapids junior volleyball Braya LaPlant
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant smiles during an interview inside the gymnasium at Grand Rapids High School Wednesday, Nov. 23. In the background is a banner that reads "Women Of Will."
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

LaPlant’s dependability and connection with her teammates isn’t exclusive to her volleyball teammates, it’s also on display during basketball practice, where she was part of the Thunderhawks’ Section 7AAA championship squad last spring. LaPlant is someone who is willing to do whatever is asked of her — whether it’s playing in the low post or bringing the ball up the court, according to 2022 News Tribune Girls Basketball All-Area Player of the Year Taryn Hamling .

“She just works hard, all around, she’s always positive, she always tries to make everything fun and she’s just always going to be there for you,” Hamling said. “You can always talk to her about anything. If you need something from her, she’ll do it and that’s just awesome for her to do. She is just a great, all around person. It doesn’t matter if it’s volleyball or basketball, she’s always trying her hardest. She can play any spot on the floor, she won’t complain if we put her in a spot she doesn’t normally play in and she is just always positive about what she is doing and puts in 100% effort.”

News Tribune volleyball players of the year

2022Braya LaPlantGrand Rapids
2021Payton RodbergProctor
2020Claire VekichGreenway
2019Claire VekichGreenway
2018Caitlin SchneeweisDuluth Denfeld
2017Marissa RossiGrand Rapids
2016Lexi AhrensVirginia
2015Hailey MenzelHermantown
2014Sidney MattsonGrand Rapids
2013Jessica LindstromSuperior
2012Stephanie KallbergHermantown
Katie ThunHermantown
2011Stephanie BandelinEsko
2010Keely DeadrickEsko
2009Kate LangeHibbing
2008Kate LangeHibbing
2007Hannah JohnsonGreenway
2006Amber RyanEsko
2005Emma JaynesHibbing
2004Shawna VarichakHibbing
2003Melissa EricksonVirginia
2002Natalie RickertDuluth East
2001Julie LenciVirginia
2000Aubrey MeierottoWashburn
1999Crystal NucechHibbing
1998Amanda MurphyTwo Harbors
1997Sarah HerrettHibbing
1996Gina ZakariasenGrand Rapids
1995Michelle BennettHermantown
1994Anna TownsendEsko
1993Chrystal OlsonCook
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant holding a volleyball
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant holding a volleyball inside the gymnasium at Grand Rapids High School Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant extends her right arm while holding a volleyball.
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant extends her right arm while holding a volleyball inside the gymnasium at Grand Rapids High School Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant holding a volleyball
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant smiles while holding a volleyball against the upper part of her right arm while posing in the gymnasium at Grand Rapids High School Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Grand Rapids junior volleyball player Braya LaPlant
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant holds a volleyball while standing above the Thunderhawks' logo inside the gymnasium at Grand Rapids High School Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
Grand Rapids junior volleyball player Braya LaPlant
Grand Rapids junior Braya LaPlant listens to a question during an interview inside the gymnasium at Grand Rapids High School Wednesday, Nov. 23.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
More from Jamey Malcomb
The Hawks hosted the event in 2010, when current seniors were yet to start school and current head coach was running the shovel crew as a Bantam coach.

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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