Three Devils Lake Volleyball storylines to watch as practice gets underway

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – The Devils Lake Firebirds will have a different feel when they officially take to the volleyball court to begin practice on Aug. 15. 

Every volleyball team will have a different feel, of course. A new season for each team means a fresh batch of opportunities after a respective set of departures from the high school ranks. 

But for the Firebirds, 2022 will be an even more enlightening experience. A 4-21 overall record during the 2021 campaign – including a 2-13 record in East Region play – certainly left much to be desired. But to Devils Lake head coach Megan Sylling, the season served as an opportunity to learn from the experiences along the way. Such was the message during their play-in game (and season finale) against Valley City on Nov. 5. 

Although the win-loss record might not have been pretty, the Devils Lake Volleyball team established a foundation during the 2021 season.

“The girls grew a foundation,” 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.”

Fast forward more than nine months later, and such a statement could not be more accurate. Nine seniors depart the Firebird volleyball ranks, so newer players must step up. And in a big way, at that. 

Here are three Devils Lake storylines to watch as volleyball practice begins: 

1. Alayna Olson and McKenley Anvik: the court is yours 

This season, Olson and Anvik will be the lone pair of seniors on Devils Lake’s roster. Will their roles be significant? You can bet the farm on it. After all, the Firebirds lost nine seniors to graduation during the offseason. Notable subtractions included two defensive specialists (Zoee Devier, Jenna Gerhardt), three setters (Bridgette Harkness, Brynn Johnson, Genna Fee) and three hitters (Vivianna Kraft, Rebekah Widmer, Rachel Dahlen). 

With more than half of last year’s roster no longer on the team (Devils Lake’s official 2021 roster topped out at 15), the Firebirds will need to look to newer leadership on the senior side. 

Enter Olson and Anvik.  

As an all-around player last season, Olson – last year’s JV Firebird Award winner – will be relied on to fill any position needed, especially if younger players struggle through the early going. Anvik, meanwhile, will help reinforce the team’s hitting presence from the outside (more on the offense below). 

Experience plays, and it will be up to both Olson and Anvik to leave the right impression on the players behind them. How will it play out? 

2. Firebird Firepower: where will Devils Lake find their jolt on offense? 

Let’s cut to the chase – Devils Lake will have a ton of shoes to fill on the offensive end of the net. 

Devils Lake middle hitter Rachel Dahlen (listed) departs the high school ranks.

A general overview of the team’s losses to graduation fails to paint the entire picture. Devils Lake’s former setter in Fee (and Firebird Award recipient) led the team in aces and assists last season (39 and 286, respectively), while Dahlen’s 286 kills also led the team. The loss of the latter player in Dahlen, in particular, will severely sting. Dahlen set a Devils Lake High School record in total kills during a single game (25 against Grand Forks Central on Oct. 4) and a single-season school record in blocks (105). 

Accolades aside, the Firebirds will need to find more rhythm offensively. 19 of Devils Lake’s 21 losses from last year’s senior-studded group came via a sweep (0-3). This year, the Firebirds will have to find offense on both ends of the net and sustain the offensive momentum over each match from start to finish. 

Look for Anvik, middle hitter Claire Heilman (sophomore), middle/outside hitter Jolie Martinson (sophomore), setter/outside hitter Lainey Hall (junior) and Matty Ertlet (junior) to factor into building a new scoring unit. 

3. Defensive adjustments: how will they play a part? 

As mentioned, the loss of three primary setters will be a learning block that the Firebirds will look to start solving during practice. However, the defending and digging side of the coin will also be a necessary hole in need of patching. Junior Jadyn Frelich – a player who missed the 2021 campaign due to injury – will look to replicate the magic that saw her amass 99 digs as a libero during the final quarter of the 2020 campaign. 

Like every other roster area, the defending side will be a work in progress. Practice, practice and, you guessed it, practice will be critical. 

John Crane is a sports/general assignment reporter for the Devils Lake Journal. Feel free to contact John via work phone (701-922-1372), cell phone (701-230-4339), email (jcrane@gannett.com) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.