Firebird wrestlers look to finish strong at state

Ray Maloney, Sports

After struggling for much of the season to simply find bodies to fill a number of weight classes, Devils Lake surprised plenty of people when the Firebirds emerged from the Eastern Dakota Conference wrestling tournament with 11 matmen earning berths into the state tournament.

The state tournament gets underway this afternoon in Fargo and concludes on Saturday when team and individual champions will be crowned.

“We’re happy with how we wrestled (at EDC),” said Devils Lake coach Jay Schneider, who took over the Firebird program midway through the season. “But, we’re still not satisfied on where we need to be or still can go.

“We need to crank it up and be wrestling our best this weekend,” Schneider added before leaving with his team for the state tournament. “The state tournament is the culmination of what everyone is working for or towards.”

Four wrestlers will be competing for the final time in a Devils Lake singlet. All are looking at going out on a strong note in their final season and help lay the foundation for even more success for the DLHS?program in future years.

“For being a young team like we are, to get 11 into state is pretty impressive,” said Brock Davidson, one of those four seniors on the Firebird state tournament roster. “I just hope the younger wrestlers have some success (at state) and stick with the sport.”

Tanner Hilliard enters his final state tournament with a 25-15 record and a tidal wave of momentum after his stunning second-place finish at the EDC meet.

Hilliard was seeded No. 7 at the region meet, but a huge win over the No. 2 seed from Fargo South moved Hilliard into the championship, where he came up short in his bid for a region crown.

“It did and it didn’t,” Hilliard said when asked if the 11 qualifiers came as a surprise. “We do have a lot of talent on this team,” he added. “I know not all are going to win ... but I hope they stick with it and keep working to improve.”

This will be Hilliard’s sixth appearance at the state tournament. He is still looking to place for the first time.

After their seventh-place finish at the EDC tournament, the Firebirds are hoping to continue to ride that momentum. A top 12 finish in the final team standings this weekend would put an exclamation point on a solid final two weeks of the season.

“That’s something I think we are capable of,” said senior Brandon Ramsey of a top 12 finish. “We all just have to show up and work hard.”

Ramsey takes a 16-17 season mark into Fargo’s tournament.

Levi Stein (1-9) is the other senior making his final appearance in a Devils Lake uniform.

“We competed well at EDC,” Schneider said. “We lost a couple of matches in overtime or in the last few seconds that could have gone either way.

“We need to understand that we can’t let up and that you have to keep wrestling all the way until the final whistle blows or horn sounds,” Schneider added.