Optimism abounds as Firebirds open camp under new coach

Staff reports
Members of the Firebird Volleyball team playing.

By Ray Maloney playing

Journal Sports Writer

DEVILS LAKE – Julie Faul simply cannot hide the enthusiasm or excitement in her voice when she talks about the Devils Lake High School volleyball team as the Firebirds prepare for their season opener Friday in the BHS-CHS Invitational in Bismarck. Nor does she want to.

“It went pretty well,” said Faul after the team went through a pair of practices Aug. 17 to begin preparation for this weekend's tournament which runs through Saturday in the Capital City. “We had a lot of girls report … a lot of girls. We had to tweak a few things, but we had 54 girls report, which I wasn't prepared for … but we got through it alright.”

The first-year coach, who takes over for Jason Wandler after two years at the helm of the Firebird program, said she learned some things about her new squad on the first day of allowable practices for high school volleyball teams in North Dakota.

“They are all showing that they have the desire to learn and improve, and that's huge,” said Faul, who added nearly half a dozen girls were absent from the first day of practice due to prior family and work commitments. “They are really eager to show what they are capable of doing.”

Faul's optimism only intensified in the days following the team's first practice.

“The last few practices have been incredible,” she beamed. “I am really optimistic that we are going to be a solid team. We've gotta put the pieces together, but I am certain we'll be able to do that.”

A few elements, crucial to success in volleyball, are already evident after the first few days of practice.

“We are going to be a tall team, we have got a lot of height,” Faul said. “We're also going to be a quick team and we are going to have some good hitters.”

That height and quickness will be needed as the Firebirds look to improve on their EDC finish of a year ago. Devils Lake was kept out of the state tournament with a loss to Fargo South in an elimination game at the region tournament, but Faul and the rest of the Firebirds are looking to make amends in a big way and establish themselves as contenders in the always-tough EDC.

“I think we are going to surprise some people,” said outside hitter McKenzie Wade. “We've been working hard and we have a very athletic group … that will help.”

What will also be of benefit to Faul as she works to move Devils Lake up in the region standings is Wade's own athleticism. Despite standing just 5-feet, 7-inches tall, the talented junior plays a critical position on offense for the Firebirds.

“I guess I can jump pretty well,” said Wade, who is expected to be one of the top players in the region at that position this fall.

“(Wade) is an excellent hitter and an excellent passer,” Faul said. “The thing that is most impressive about her is that she always brings an attack mode and is always going hard.

“She works hard to make others around her better,” Faul added.

Joining Wade in what Faul hopes is a potent lineup this fall, will be Kasi Eisenzimmer and Ashley Sebelius, both seniors who will be asked to also assume roles as floor leaders for the Firebirds, according to Faul.

“(Kasi) shows a lot of leadership on the floor, she's a hustler,” said Faul, a graduate of Jamestown College, where she participated in volleyball and track for the Jimmies. “She has got to step up and be a leader and I think that is something she is comfortable in doing.”

Sebelius just might be a diamond in the rough this season for the Firebirds. At 5-10, Sebelius has the athleticism to allow Faul to use her at a number of different positions near the net.

“She's accustomed to playing the middle,” Faul said of Sebelius, “but I have more middles than I can count, so she may be asked to move to another position to help improve the team … time will tell.”

Taylor Wade, the twin sister of McKenzie, should also play a major role in Devils Lake's run through the EDC this season. The 5-11 junior is expected to see significant playing time this year, according to Faul.

“With her size and quickness, Taylor will be asked to do a lot of things for us,” the new coach said.

With just a few days to go before the season opener, Faul still has question marks as the Firebirds prepare to tangle with opponents from the Western Dakota Association at the tournament in Bismarck.

“We have a team with great potential and we are going to have a bench deep with talented players,” Faul said. “There will be eight or nine juniors who will be counted on to contribute in big ways off the bench.”