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Getting 1 percent better: Devils Lake wrestling's tough mental approach has proved successful on mat

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE - “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens the face his neighbor,” Proverbs 27:17. 

The bible verse is a popular one, meaning that one can benefit from a peer through basically tough love. It's not the easy way to get better at something, but in the end, it'll pay off. The verse is Devils Lake head coach Brendon Flynn's favorite, and he has used that same verse to help his wrestlers sharpen each other on and off the mat. 

"We preach that," Flynn said. "If you want to get better, you have to wrestle the best. I know there are days where they get at each other, just like siblings. The thing that we try to preach as coaches are that this guy is trying to make you better. They're not doing it to be mean, but they're doing it to make you better." 

The team effort to help one another has been a staple of the Devils Lake wrestling program. The Firebirds compete as one unit, rolling off of each other successes to help the overall team effort. On Thursday night at the Sports Center against Fargo North, Devils Lake would pick up win after win, building momentum for the next wrestler to take the mat. 

The Spartans had the overall lead once as Evan Andersen would pin Devils Lake's Joey Heiser in the 220 class to go up 6-0. From then on out, the Firebirds would win eight of the 12 remaining matchups to cruise to a 45-16 win over Fargo North. The dominating win is the Firebirds fourth on the season as they cruise into 2021 in hopes to continue their winning ways from the last calendar year. 

"It was just a great team effort tonight," Flynn said. "We talk about being a family all the time and that is how they wrestled tonight. They had each other back from start to finish and it was just a great team effort." 

The family sense of competing together was sparked by the wrestlers who pulled off major upsets throughout the night. Freshman Hudson Hodous kick off the Firebird's hot streak as he would upset Fargo North's Mike Jones via pinfall in 285s in the second round to tie the dual at 6-6. In 126's, senior Kaleb Schwandt, bleeding from his nose consistently throughout the dual, would outlast Fargo North's Augustus Maughan via final decision for the win. Finally, in 145's, junior Colton Young would upset Chase Hansen via pinfall 1:15 into the dual.   

The momentum from the trio of upsets spread up and down the roster as the Firebirds racked up the wins and challenged some of the top wrestlers in the state. While he didn't pick up the win, senior Zach Lange would the distance with Fargo North's Joshua Worral, who is ranked No. 2 in the state, in 160s. Lange would battle for three rounds before Worral would pick up the win via final decision. 

"What's fun is it's the guys you didn't expect who picked up the upsets tonight," Flynn said. It's the guys who've kept knocking on the door and they finally decided to kick it in. They stopped knocking today." 

The momentum of constantly winning and watching your teammates succeed offers another side to those coming onto the mat to keep the streak alive. Flynn said that he has pushed his team to the mental brink to get better and that has led to a culture on the team of proving themselves to their teammates. The mental intensity that the Devils Lake coaching staff has put the Firebirds through has made the team not just stronger, but closer. 

"I've put these guys through a lot and there have been times where I try to break them mentally," Flynn said. "When they go through that struggle together, it bonds them and it's bond that any other teams can match because you're beating each other up every day...The bond you create with each other and you see that other guy go out there and win, you feel like you have to step up and do the same. It's fun to see that when they match the energy." 

Devils Lake wrestler senior Zach Lange takes the mat in a duel against Fargo North on Jan. 7 at Devils Lake High School.

Mental stability is one of the biggest keys in wrestling according to Flynn, and he has done as much as he can to strengthen his team's mind. And he is aware that there are people who cannot handle it, which is why some people have left the program because they can't handle it. While it may seem like an exhausting process, Devils Lake has created a brother/sisterhood out of the process and learned how to challenge each other. Wrestlers off to the side were cheering for each other when they weren't on the mat and even during practice, they're facing off against each other in tug of war. 

This approach of grinding away for results has been a process that has remained consistent in the program. Last season, the Firebirds took second in the EDC, one spot short of their goal to win it. This season, not only is Devils Lake looking to win the EDC, but they want to win state. To Flynn and his team, this is a very obtainable goal. The aspirations of the team coincide with the team's motto of doing something great and getting one percent better every day.

"In wrestling, it's all mental," Flynn said. "If you feel like you're going to lose or have the doubt already in your mind, you might as well not even get on the mat because someone will destroy you. It's more of a mental game with yourself, because if you can't defeat your own mind, then it's going to be one of the most brutal things you ever go through. We always talk about winning that battle with your mind first, then the scale, and then the guy in front of you."

Looking at the push the Devils Lake has on its team, expectations are high, but that is where the one percent better everyday slogan comes in. It's a constant reminder, that is even posted on the locker room door outside the gym, that doing something one percent better every day will add up in the long run. Flynn calls it a "mind trick" to pull the kids away from the pressure of giving 100 or 110 percent every day. 

"You're not going to be 100 percent every day," Flynn said. "If you focus on giving 100 percent every day, it's really hard. It's hard to match that because you might feel down some days. However, if you focus on giving just one percent, it's a mind trick. If you focus on giving only one percent, it makes you believe that you can obtain it...I've become way better because I've stopped focusing on 100 percent and focused on one thing at a time." 

Devils Lake continues its quest for the state crown against West Fargo Sheyenne on Jan. 14 before getting another swing at Valley City, their only loss on the season, on Jan. 21. Devils Lake's visions on winning the state title don't fall into the 110 percent category, they believe that a title is obtainable by doing great things. 

"We have the motto of do something great and that's what these kids did tonight," Flynn said. "A lot of credit goes to these kids' mental attitude and how they approach things. I'm very blessed to have this group." 

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.

Devils Lake vs. Fargo North results

Devils Lake (DL) 45

Fargo North (FN) 16

220: Evan Andersen (FN) over Joey Heiser (DL) (Fall 2:00)

285: Hudson Hodous (DL) over Mike Jones (FN) (Fall 2:00) 

106: William Sprenger (DL) over Konner Johnson (FN) (Fall 0:00)

113: Jenna Gerhardt (DL) over (FN) (For.) 

120: Owen Lindstrom (DL) over Jace Varriano (FN) (Fall 0:00) 

126: Kaleb Schwandt (DL) over Augustus Maughan (FN) (Dec 11-9) 

132: Danny Monatukwa (FN) over Ethan Sprenger (DL) (Dec 5-2)

138: Brant Fisk (DL) over Henry Maughan (FN) (Fall 2:57) 

145: Colton Young (DL) over Chase Hansen (FN) (Fall 1:15) 

152: James Charboneau (DL) over Harper Schultz (FN) (Fall 0:41) 

160: Joshua Worral (FN) over Zach Lange (DL) (Dec 8-5) 

170: William Ward (FN) over Brayden Gerhardt (DL) (MD 14-5)