After missing nearly seven weeks with a concussion, Mia Fradenburg would be forgiven if there was an element of rust to her game.
That was not the case, though. Back on the court for the first time since Sept. 16, Fradenburg returned to the North Carolina volleyball team’s starting lineup on Friday, and looked like her old self in the Tar Heels’ 3-0 win (25-23, 25-13, 25-15) against Boston College at Carmichael Arena.
A libero who her teammates say brings a calming effect to the team, Fradenburg was a rock defensively for UNC (12-10, 9-5 ACC), and also flashed glimpses of what she can do for the Tar Heel offense.
“Overall, she came out, serve received really well for us – I thought that was what we really needed, the anchoring of that,” head coach Joe Sagula said of Fradenburg. “So she didn’t look uncomfortable there at all, and she just looked like she was moving well on the court.”
In her first match back, Fradenburg recorded 16 digs, while also setting a career-high with nine assists, crushing her previous personal record of three. Upon learning that fact, she had a look of both astonishment and joy on her face.
But statistics aside, just getting back out there and finally playing again meant a great deal to Fradenburg, who had to endure a long road back.
Recovering from a concussion is a tricky, unpredictable and often frustrating process. Earlier this week, UNC announced that sophomores Julia Scoles and Mariah Evans, who both suffered concussions early in the season, would be out for the remainder of the year.
For Fradenburg, the recovery process was about taking things a step at a time, and being patient.
“Concussion recovery is kind of difficult, because in the beginning you can’t really do much physically,” she said. “But near the end, I started increasing my workouts. I came to practice a bunch, I sat through a bunch of them. I was able to travel this past weekend, so I was able to get back into the routine of things, and I had to slowly get back to practice.”
The Tar Heels would have loved to have gotten Fradenburg back earlier, because her return looks like it could benefit a team that needs to finish strong down the stretch to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament.
“She’s a very calm player, so it’s nice to have her there,” teammate Taylor Borup said. “She’s very steady, so even when we’re still receiving I know that she can literally take up half the court, and we all have confidence in here. So it’s fun having her back.”
Fradenburg’s ability to receive as well as she did was somewhat expected, but her ability to get the UNC offense was an added bonus. According to Fradenburg, she was on the same page with her teammates.
“Our right back, Holly (Carlton) and especially Kendra (Koetter), did a great job digging tonight, so I got a lot of opportunities," she said. "And both the pins were being very vocal, so I knew that they were ready, and I felt confident setting them. That really helped.”
While Sagula commended Casey Jacobs, who had filled in at libero during Fradenburg’s absence, he thinks Fradenburg brings something to the game that makes things easier for UNC’s hitters.
“There’s just a little bit of a difference, you know,” he said. “One player to the next, there are little nuances, and I think it just creates a comfort level for the hitters in feeling they could be more aggressive, perhaps.”
Things could’ve been tricky for Fradenburg, who still had to adjust to the speed of the game after being away for so long. Yet, any sort of nerves or butterflies that might have been in her system are gone now, and she can get back to doing what she loves.
“It felt great to put the jersey back on, play next to my teammates again,” she said. “It just felt really good.”
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