(#10) Devils Lake concludes season with 3-0 play-in loss to (#7) Valley City

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

VALLEY CITY – Coming into the 2021-22 season, the Devils Lake Firebirds had many goals on their to-do list.

The main goal the team wished to achieve, however, was arguably the one many tended to overlook. The goal, you might ask?  

Develop and maintain confidence.

It was this particular goal that was on the mind of every Firebird player and coach alike Friday evening in Valley City. The reason to achieve this goal held more significance than usual. The (#10) Firebirds were taking on the (#7) Valley City Hi-Liners for the honor of moving on to the quarterfinal round of the 2021 NDHSAA Class A - East Region Volleyball Tournament.

The context practically wrote itself on the wall. One team would move on to face (#2) West Fargo. The other would see their season come to a close.

Devils Lake players come together to celebrate after tallying a point against Valley City.

While they put up a late fight, the Firebirds eventually succumbed to the Hi-Liners, 3-0, on Nov. 5.

The Firebirds (4-21, 2-13) were officially eliminated from postseason play with the loss. Excluding tournament play, Devils Lake finished the year 0-3 against the Hi-Liners (Sep. 16 and Oct. 26). 

“The girls grew a foundation,” Devils Lake head coach Megan Sylling said after the match. “A young team that really pushed toward the end and did nothing but learn throughout the year. We have a lot of seniors we are going to miss terribly, but we look forward to the future and everything we are going to accomplish then.”

Devils Lake’s foundation on the court quickly revealed itself in the form of alert block touches from the front row. After they initially had success in this area during their Oct. 26 match against the Hi-Liners, Devils Lake responded with even more authority, despite their 25-12 and 25-7 set one and two defeats, respectively.

Even still, the Firebirds were pinned with yet another 2-0 deficit. 

Nevertheless, the team’s collective conscience continued to grind with just enough confidence.

After Valley City rocketed ahead to a 4-0 lead early through set three, the Firebirds rebounded to win five of the following six rallies to tie up the scoreboard, 5-5.

Senior middle hitter Rachel Dahlen (#21, left) jumps in the air to prepare for a spike against Valley City.

To senior middle hitter Rachel Dahlen and senior setter/rear hitter Brynn Johnson, the team's enhanced confidence, coupled with the season-long growth, helped create enough of a spark to give the Hi-Liners a run for their money.

“At the start, we had a lot of younger players, and they were not very confident with their playing because they were playing up,” Dahlen said after the match. “Then, as they grew, they got more confident in their skills and saw how they can play and keep up with the varsity level.”

“I feel like we grew as a team," Johnson said after the match. “When we started out, we were not working together as well, and then now, as you can see, we have improved, every one of us.”

A 14-11 Valley City lead quickly became a 19-15 cushion still in Valley City's favor. But not if the Firebirds had anything to say about it. A slew of timely Dahlen-patented blocks quickly converted to kills on Devils Lake's side of the scoring coin. Just like that, a four-point deficit instead turned into a 21-21 tie. 

The confidence continued to build off each serve, and while the spirit did not wane, Valley City’s precise shot generation from the edges proved to be the difference-maker as they went on to pick up the 25-23 set three win. 

While their season has come to an end, Devils Lake’s confidence level has built up to an optimal level heading into future seasons. 

Although both Dahlen and Johnson depart the program, they believe the talent from the younger players, coupled with the coaching experience, will show out in terms of on-the-court success in the future. 

“It was hard having a bunch of coaches, but with each coach, they helped us learn a bunch of new things, which really helped us grow as a team,” Dahlen said. 

Sylling’s message to her team in the present holds the same weight as her message to the team in the future, and although Devils Lake now has an offseason to stare at, the message all revolves back to the same core concept. 

Develop and maintain confidence. 

“Keep it all out on the court, push hard every point and know you can do it,” Sylling said.