Shelby Bretschneider spent the 2018 volleyball season as a spectator as her Midland University teammates made a march to the NAIA Final Four.
Being on the sidelines wasn’t in the original plans of the senior-to-be from Pierce.
As a sophomore in 2017, Bretschneider played in 30 matches and recorded 178 kills and 45 total blocks while playing rightside hitter. Midland finished 21-11 that season and advanced to the Round of 16 in the NAIA Tournament.
Things were looking up for Bretschneider and the Lady Warriors as they began preparations for the 2018 season. On the second day of fall practice, however, disaster struck.
During a scrimmage, Bretschneider went up for a hit. No one was around her, but she landed awkwardly. Her left leg buckled.
“It was in slow motion for me, but everything actually happened so quickly,” the 5-foot-10 Bretschneider said.
A torn ACL required surgery and derailed her plans for 2018. The Lady Warriors went on to a memorable season. Led by All-Americans Jessica Peters and Priscilla O’Dowd, MU finished 26-8 and advanced to the NAIA Final Four.
Bretschneider was right there along the way, cheering her teammates.
“My faith has totally carried me through this,” she said. “I didn’t look at it as a struggle, but more as a blessing because I was taking a lot of things for granted like being able to walk and things like that. It put things in perspective for me that things can change in an instant.”
Bretschneider spent her time on the sidelines to good advantage.
“There were things that I never saw while I was on the court,” she said. “Viewing it from off the court in a different (role) I have a better grasp on how to do things in different situations.”
Midland coach Paul Giesselmann had planned on switching Bretschneider to outside hitter last season. The injury derailed those plans in 2018, but the senior is planning on making that switch this fall.
The knee injury is just one of the obstacles Bretschneider overcomes as a player. She also suffers from Stargardt Disease, which affects her vision.
“It is just something I’ve learned to adjust to,” she said. “It is easier for me to see the ball longer on the outside than on the rightside. I like the outside better, but I’ll play wherever they need me.”
That type of “team first” attitude has served Bretschneider well. In the spring, she and fellow senior Taylor Petersen were elected captains.
“It is an honor to be a captain with Taylor,” Bretschneider said. “”She is a great leader on the court. In watching her last season, she really led the team and stepped up. It is awesome that we have that role to lead the team.”
Peters, O’Dowd and outside hitter Jenny Bair were among the players that graduated in the spring. Bretschneider is confident that the Lady Warriors can overcome the loss of those key players.
“We’ll be a young team, but we have so many good pin hitters that will help us,” she said. “There is a lot of good competition there and also in the back row. We’re all pushing each other. Every day after (workouts) everyone is really tired because of how hard we competed.”
As he has done every year, Giesselmann has brought in a talented group of recruits, including freshmen setters Bree Burtwistle (of Stanton) and Hope Leimbach of Lincoln Lutheran.
“We have high expectations,” Bretschneider said. “Even though we lost some great players, we still have the expectations of winning conference, making it to nationals and all of those big things. We have some great players coming in like Hope and Bree. They are both strong players and willing to do whatever it takes to make the team good.”
Bretschneider is doing her part to help the team, but rehab has presented some challenges.
“I’ve had problems with my quad and my calf,” she said. “Just two weeks ago I had surgery to get rid of some scar tissue. But I’ve had a great training staff to work with. My coaches, teammates and family have really helped me through it and so has my strength coach (Morgan Bergen). ... I’m feeling good, but I’m not 100 percent yet.”
Bretschneider could come back next season (taking the 2018 campaign as a redshirt), but she is ready to enter the next phase of her life. She has a 4.0 GPA in elementary education and plans on graduating in May.
“Coach Giesselmann is really good at reminding us how important school is,” she said when asked how she juggles athletics and academics successfully. “We are here for school and volleyball is a side of it. He challenges you to manage your time well.”
Bretschneider does plan on joining Shawn Gilbert’s women’s basketball team once the Lady Warriors’ volleyball season ends. She hopes, though, that her season with Giesselmann and her teammates extends into December.
“My No. 1 goal is to be a great leader in whatever role I have,” she said. “Taylor and I will hold the team to high standards because we’re captains and I have to keep myself healthy so I don’t go down again. I just want this team to go as far as possible.”