With injuries behind them, Jadyn Frelich and Matty Ertelt ready to take next athletic step

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – A gradual stream of Devils Lake Volleyball players slowly but surely entered the Devils Lake Sports Center to not only begin yet another practice session but to help establish a new culture. 

As one of six juniors on the 2022 rendition of the Devils Lake Firebirds, Matty Ertelt (center) will look to bounce back from injury in 2021 and take the volleyball court by storm.

A culture change, however, wasn’t one out of desperation. Instead, such a shift came out of necessity. Losing nine seniors from the previous year meant a fresh batch of volleyball players had to fill the void. Players coming back from injury, too, only added to the prospect aura that surrounded the collective team on Aug. 22 as another practice began to get underway. 

The stakes were heightened two-fold for Jadyn Frelich and Matty Ertelt. They were vying to take a step forward on the leadership pedestal and simultaneously erase the chip off their shoulders when speaking about injuries. 

For Frelich, it was a torn right ACL. For Ertlet, it was damage to soft tissue in her left foot. Two separate injuries but one diagnosis: unable to play in 2021. After promising freshman campaigns in 2020, both had to delay any momentum push for a full calendar year. 

Instead of thriving on the court in 2021 as sophomores, the pair sat on the sidelines. 

Not all was lost for the duo, though. Instead of sulking, Frelich and Ertelt were scoring. Literally. From the scorer’s table, the duo found a newfound ability to pay attention to all positions and players. 

“We did stats together, so we really had to observe every position and if they won the point,” Ertelt said. “Then you have to see how they won the point because they did it the best.” 

“We had to pay attention to pretty much every single thing because of us doing stats and also just to give out pointers and help people,” Frelich said. 

Paying attention to every facet of the game wasn’t necessarily a newfound trait for Frelich. After shifting around the court, Frelich finished the last quarter of the 2020 campaign as a libero and collected 99 digs while captaining the position. 

Despite not playing last season, Frelich learned a new perspective on all positions. Especially her own. 

“I think I’ve changed quite a bit because freshman year, I was, like, every single position,” Frelich said. "And then, [at] the end of the season, I was libero, so it helped me a lot to learn each position. I think that I’ve learned libero pretty well.” 

Jadyn Frelich will trek into 2022 looking to replicate 2020 magic that saw her net 99 digs as a freshman.

As a 5-foot-11-inch middle hitter, Ertelt saw 2021 as an avenue to get a closer look at positions she might not have had familiarity with otherwise. Sure, it might not have been as exciting or alluring as playing, but that didn’t make it any less enlightening. 

“From the sidelines, I got to see every position work and how I could benefit my team better come next year,” Ertelt said. “I knew the smaller details, and I got to see the game of volleyball from a different perspective and how to win.” 

Megan Sylling didn’t need a reminder of what the pair had accomplished now and then. Since coaching Frelich and Ertelt as seventh graders, Sylling has watched the duo grow as players that could, in due time, become the focal producers on the court and avid mentors off the court.  

Injury-plagued 2021 aside, Sylling doesn’t see 2022 as an obstacle that would prevent Frelich and Ertelt from producing and leading through the expected grind that comes with a volleyball campaign.

“They were able to gain leadership perspective and just different perspectives of the game,” Sylling said. “They also were great cheerleaders for the girls. Coming off, they would show support for all of them regardless of what kind of situation the game was in. And then, just giving different pointers to everybody and, you know, just kind of reiterating everything that I would say off the sidelines as well.” 

Being players on the court and friends off the court, to Ertelt (listed), helps build relationships and gain more leadership experience.

Each separate Aug. 22 practice drill saw Frelich and Ertelt remain at the forefront. Maintaining an upbeat personality through every practice and match can do nothing but improve on-court and off-court success. 

Keeping it positive couldn’t be more significant for the duo. Anything less wouldn’t help in bouncing back from a playing hiatus. 

With a newer and younger aura surrounding the Firebirds, leadership is as vital as ever. 

Luckily for the Firebirds, Frelich and Ertelt are more than ready to help on that front. 

“I think that just being able to cheer on people and have a good bond is [going to] help us to all be leaders because you just don’t need one,” Frelich said. “You need to all be leaders. So, I think…and just because I have experience, so I feel like that is good in leadership.” 

Considering 2022 is a two-fold opportunity to bounce back from injuries and fill the senior void as juniors, Frelich and Ertelt are hungrier than ever to relish every practice and match as they did when they played in 2020. From learning on the sidelines in 2021, the pair developed a different perspective that should only improve their volleyball craft further. 

In terms of building the culture and capitalizing on the youth the Firebirds bring to the court, such experiences can only help in the long run. 

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), Instagram (johnbcranesports) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.