Brenna Essig has never been directly affected by cancer.

Yet, as the standout student-athlete from Triton High School was considering the possibilities last fall for her senior-year project, she thought back to all of the sporting events she had attended or been part of during her time as a Cobra.

The multi-sport athlete remembered cancer fundraisers being held at Cobras football games or basketball games. So, she thought, why not volleyball?

“We’ve had a few other cancer fundraisers, in football and basketball games,” Essig said, “so I thought it would be good to have one for volleyball, too.”

But pulling off a silent auction and T-shirt sales, as well as soliciting other monetary donations during a pandemic is different than doing so when the Cobras’ gym is allowed to be packed with fans.

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Essig didn’t hesitate, though. In fact, she doubled her efforts to make sure that word of the Nov. 13 fundraiser spread. The Cobras lost to state powerhouse Kasson-Mantorville that night, but Essig's fundraiser was a hit.

Triton’s Brenna Essig (16) serves the ball during a girls volleyball match against Kasson-Mantorville on Friday, November 13, 2020, at Triton High School in Dodge Center. (Traci Westcott /
Triton’s Brenna Essig (16) serves the ball during a girls volleyball match against Kasson-Mantorville on Friday, November 13, 2020, at Triton High School in Dodge Center. (Traci Westcott /

She created black T-shirts with the image of a white volleyball and a pink ribbon over top of it, with the message “BLOCK OUT CANCER” across the top in giant block letters.

She approached businesses and other community leaders in the Dodge Center area for silent-auction donations. The silent auction ended up with nearly a dozen items, including many themed baskets, such as a Triton sports basket that included Cobras T-shirts, a blanket and a picture frame autographed by the volleyball team.

Perhaps most importantly, Essig created a website specifically for the “Block Out Cancer” Night. The site offered a link for donations as well as pictures of and the ability to bid on the silent auction items.

“The whole school was really helpful,” she said. “They put a link to my website on the school website. Our administrators Tweeted it out and put it on the school’s Facebook page. Our volleyball games are broadcast, too, so our A.D. (Shane VanBeek) and teachers were commentating, and on timeouts they’d plug it for me.”

In total, Essig raised nearly $1,700 for the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Cancer Research Fund. On the fundraiser page, Essig eloquently stated why she chose to raise funds for children’s cancer research:

“I'm fundraising on behalf of Children's Cancer Research Fund because I believe no child should have to deal with the devastating effects of childhood cancer,” she wrote. “I believe no parent should experience the loss of a child.

“I believe no sibling should have to watch their brother or sister suffer.

“I believe that by investing in the brightest and boldest minds in childhood cancer research, one day we will have a cure.

“I believe that every dollar I raise for childhood cancer research could be THE dollar that changes everything for a family affected by cancer.

“I believe that together we can have a lasting impact in the life of a child with cancer.

“I believe that a world without childhood cancer is possible.”

Essig’s athletic career is far from over. She’ll play basketball this winter, compete in track and field in the spring, then head to St. Catherine University in St. Paul in the fall, where she’ll play volleyball for a program that is trending in the right direction. The Wildcats have had back-to-back winning seasons after three straight sub-.500 seasons.

“I really like their volleyball coach (Todd Nelson, in just his third season with the Wildcats); he reached out to me a while ago,” said Essig, who is a 4.0 student, an All-HVL volleyball player and Triton’s AAA Award winner. “The campus is small and nice, it felt like a community to me.”

She’ll head there with a sense of satisfaction, having raised so much money for a charity that so many children benefit from.

“It was really rewarding and I’m so thankful for all of the community members who were willing to help and donate,” she said. “We had a very positive response from the community. People I barely know were happy to buy a T-shirt or donate to the silent auction.

“I’m very thankful for everyone who was willing to help in any way, shape or form.”