Devils Lake 'picking up where they left off' in lopsided win over Grand Forks Central

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Devils Lake senior guard Malayna Barendt moves past a Grand Forks Central defender in a game against the Knights on Dec. 15 at Devils Lake High School. The Firebirds won 96-40

Outside of a global health crisis, not a lot has slowed down the Firebirds in 2020. After rolling to a 25-1 finish last season, making it to the Class A title game before it was canceled, the Firebirds proved that they are still going to be a force this season. 

As the temperatures dipped into the low teens outside, the heat was on inside of the Sports Center as RV Devils Lake (1-0) racked up its highest point total in more than five seasons, defeating Grand Forks Central (0-1) 96-40. While the Firebirds have lost some players from last season, the win showed that Devils Lake is picking up where it left off in March. 

"It was a good way to get started and it was nice to just get on the court," Firebirds head coach Justin Klein said. "I thought we got a good effort from everybody and they were ready to play." 

While the Firebirds nearly broke 100 Tuesday night, it took a few minutes for Devils Lake to find its footing after being off for so long. While the rest of the team was adjusting back to the floor, senior forward Jailyn Martinson was pushing the Firebirds ahead. The Jamestown commit downed 14 of her 17 points in the first half. 

Martinson's offensive surge in the early first half allowed the rest of the squad to shake some rust off a get the ball moving. Devils Lake would see junior forward Rachel Dahlen go 2-2 at the line and pick up a pair of layups, and senior guard Jenna Frelich down the Firebirds first trey of the night to put Devils Lake up by 27 at the half, 46-19. 

"We didn't have a scrimmage and only practiced for two weeks, so we were getting back into the game situation again," Klein said. "Some of these kids haven't done much for a long period of time, basketball-wise, so it took them a little while to get into the flow." 

The Firebirds have had to adjust to losing three of their starters to seniority, specifically outside the arc. Devils Lake did convert twice from 3-point range, both from Jenna Frelich, but found the rest of their points inside the paint. 

"Inside, the teams that don't have size against us are really going to have to pack it in because we have a lot of inside post play," Klein said. "We hit two 3-pointers by Frelich but the rest was all in the paint. There was a lot of scoring inside off of drives, triple rebounds, offensive rebounds, putbacks, and things like that." 

Devils Lake junior forward Rachel Dahlen and a Grand Forks Central player battle for the tip-off in a game against the Knights on Dec. 15 at Devils Lake High School. The Firebirds won 96-40

One of the players who had contributed to the Firebirds' dominance inside the paint was Dahlen, who finished with a team-high 18 points, knocking down 12 points in the second half. Standing as the tallest player on the roster at 6-foot 2-inches, her presence in the paint made it hard for the Knights to stop.

As an experienced player inside the paint, capitalizing on her height, Klein is looking to her to elevate other taller players as well. Height is not an issue for Devils Lake as they have six players standing at or over 5-feet 9-inches, but they are looking to develop even more is using that height as an advantage, as Dahlen has. 

"I think we're going have to use those taller kids to fee up our outside shooting," Klein said. "They're [outside shooters] going to have a lot more opportunities as the season goes on because they [taller players] are going to back it in on those kids. It's a big part of our offense." 

Even with the Firebirds looking to work on some things inside the paint, the Grand Forks Central offense struggled to find an answer to Devils Lake on both sides of the ball in the second half. The Firebirds would get their boost into the 70 point margin off a 20-0 run, seeing Dahlen and senior forward Ramsey Brown highlight the run. Brown racked up the majority of her points on putbacks and layups as she would score 10 points in the second half, finishing with 14 on the night. 

In facing teams that finished lower than Devils Lake in the EDC rankings early on, the Firebirds have had more of an opportunity to work and improve their offense in-game settings. Tuesday's game allowed Devils Lake to get a handful of offensive reps that give the team more perspective than in practice.

"These are two good teams that were starting off playing now, not like West Fargo and Shanley like we were supposed to," Klein said. "If we had this schedule in February it wouldn't do much for us, but now it's allowing us to figure out ourselves and what's going on." 

In having a successful start to the season, the Firebirds did have a low-point in Tuesday's game that adds to the continuing adjustments in the lineup. In the first half, senior guard Avery Swenson would go down with a knee injury and would not return to the game. With Swenson potentially out with an injury, Klein said there needs to be a step up into her position, where she has been a constant force for the Firebirds during her time with the team. 

"We have some kids that can step up, but I don't know in that point guard position," Klein said. "Especially losing Johnson and Mertens, who were two of our main guards. We need to find that fit. We have some kids that can step up into that position, but they are inexperienced." 

Rolling into this season with a win, the Firebirds host Wahpeton on Saturday before traveling to West Fargo Sheyenne on Dec. 22. While Devils Lake is looking to improve its physical game, Klein said mentally the team has picked up where it left off last season.

"We're in a decent place, but we have some work to do," Klein said. "This was a good start for us and a good booster. We left off where we were last year mentality wise." 

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.

Tuesday night Lake Region preps scores 

Girls basketball

RV Devils Lake - 96 

Grand Forks Central - 40 

Point leader - Rachel Dahlen, DL (18) 

Devils Lake next game Dec. 19 vs. Wahpeton 

North Star - 73 

Max - 24 

Point leader - Danielle Hagler, NS (17) 

North Star next game Dec. 18 at Benson County (Leeds) 

Boys basketball

Grand Forks Central - 68

Devils Lake - 58 

Devils Lake next game at Wahpeton on Dec. 19 

No. 9 Langdon/Edmore/Munich - 79

Midway/Minto - 47 

L/E/M next game Dec. 19 at North Border 

Griggs/Midkota - 67

Dakota Prairie - 43 

Dakota Prairie next game vs. Hatton/Northwood at Dakota Prairie 

Boys hockey

West Fargo Sheyenne - 4

Devils Lake - 3

Goals:

G - Jeremiah Hill, A - Camden Schwab @ 2:11 1P, 1-0 DL 

G - Parker Swanson, A - Justin Blake, Kaden Branvold @ 1:42 2P, 2-2 

G - Camden Schwab, A - none @ 15:52 3P,  4-3 WFS 

Zach White - 43 saves on 47 shots 

Devils Lake next game Dec. 18 vs. Fargo Davies 

Girls hockey

No. 1 Fargo Shanley - 6

No. 8 Devils Lake - 1 

Devils Lake next game Dec. 17 vs. Jamestown