'I can do that too': Jenna Gerhardt's never quit attitude has made her an important piece to Devils Lake wrestling
A lot of young female athletes in Devils Lake dream of taking the hardwood with the Firebirds. With a basketball in hand, girls around the region dream about being apart of a Devils Lake squad that raises a banner inside the Sports Center. For junior Jenna Gerhardt, that's how it began.
As a middle schooler, she was a part of the Firebirds youth basketball program, hoping to be a part of the varsity squad one day. However, when basketball season had ended, Gerhardt was still looking for something to keep her busy. She's a competitor at heart and was looking for yet another sport to put her heart and soul into. That's when she found the mats.
"I watched my brothers wrestle and said hey I can do that," Gerhardt said. "We were starting my little brother up at Shooting Starz and I asked my mom if I could do it because basketball season was done."
While she was still invested in basketball, Gerhardt began getting involved with the youth program and was catching the attention of those around her. Eventually, Firebirds head coach Brendon Flynn invited her up to the wrestling room at the high school to put her head to head with some of the younger guys on the team. He wanted to see how she would fair against high school competition, as she was wrestling at the youth level. and the result caught him by surprise.
"Before you know it, she was kicking the crap out of these guys," Flynn said. "We're like, holy smokes she could do something. We started talking to her more and before she knew it, she fell in love with it."
Three years later, Gerhardt is suiting up with a varsity squad on the floor of the Sports Center, but she's not hitting shots or pulling down rebounds, she's taking down and pinning boys and girls across the state on the mat. Her commitment and passion for wrestling have made her stand out not just in the program, but on the state level as well.
The passion for wrestling doesn't really have an off switch for Gerhardt. At home, she wrestles with her older and younger brothers, trying to push them off the bed. She said that she can easily pin her younger brother, but can't get past her older brother, senior Brayden Gerhardt, who is eight weight classes above her.
Even after practice, when her teammates are heading to the locker room getting ready to head home, she is still out on the mat with one of her partners, freshman Will Springer, in order to better her craft. And Springer and her other partner, eighth grader Owen Lindstrom, aren't pushovers. Both of them are ranked in the top five in their weight classes in the state.
"It's always a fight with Will and Owen," Gerhardt said. "Will wrestles with me after practice and I'm thankful that he pushes me. The sport means a lot to me. It's helping me become a better person."
While her partners have been able to help her grow on the mat, she commends the Devils Lake coaching staff as well on her growth in Flynn alongside assistant coach James Fisk and junior high coach Brett Mittleider.
The Devils Lake program is a demanding one and a competitive one. Flynn said toughness and grit are expected out of every single person that walks through that door and some have walked back out. For Gerhardt, it wasn't the easiest of beginnings when she first joined the team. Duels were not ending in her favor despite the work she was putting into wrestling. However, according to Flynn, she didn't believe the lie, which is why she's still here and building her own success.
"She told herself she can do this and beat these people and didn't believe the lie that she couldn't," Flynn said. "All of a sudden she started winning. It’s amazing and fun to be around that. That why you coach."
Gerhardt has found a lot of success in her weight class but has dominated at the girls' level. She has won her weight class in the girl's state tournament twice and most recently won the Central Cass invitational in her weight class, picking up two pins and one final decision victory. One of her pins came in 38 seconds over Hettinger/Scranton's Julia Dalley.
Her success on the mat has added to the trailblazing effort of girls around the state to push for girls wrestling to become a sanctioned sport by the NDHSAA. Devils Lake has had girls come through its program, being one of the first to have girls wrestle on their team, but Gerhardt could possibly be the first girl to compete within sanctioned wrestling in the program. Flynn said the proposal to make girls wrestling a sanctioned sport will be voted on this spring.
However, Gerhardt isn't focused on what she might do next year in a possible girl's division. She has goals that she wants to achieve now. She doesn't care who she's going up against, she wants to continue to pick up pins and get one percent better every day.
"My goal is to work hard and win some matches at state and not get pinned," Gerhardt said. "I want to be mentally tough and be thankful. Wrestling makes me mentally strong and will help me when I get out into the world. It’s going to make me strong and get me through obstacles."
Gerhardt has set her standards high and knows that this is something she wants. However, she knows that something like this isn't going to come quickly and that it'll take time to reach, like a lot of things in the wrestling world.
"Wrestling has taught me that you have to work for what you want and it takes time to achieve," Gerhardt said. "I have the mindset that I need it now, but It takes time and I have to work for it."
She brings toughness to the mat and a never quit attitude, but at the same time, Gerhardt is one of the kindest spirits on the roster. After her duals, her teammates come up to her and give her hugs, which she loves. She remains positive throughout, which is an element of her success.
"It’s about doing on those little things and not focusing on the big picture too much," Flynn said. "That is where her success comes from the most. She focuses on these little positive things and that's what we hold onto. Her focus has just been getting one percent better every day."
It can be hard at times to move forward. Gerhardt said that sometimes she can get into her own head and sometimes question if she's pushing herself hard enough. But that's where her teammates have come in to give her the lift that she has given them at one point. They know that she is doing as much as she can to fight for them and they have shown her that respect in return.
"They know when she goes out there that she’s going to put everything she has into it," Flynn said. "That what has earned her the most respect on this team and that is why these guys have accepted her. Our guys don’t care how talented you are, if you go into battle with them they're going to stand by you."
Wrestling drives Jenna Gerhardt. She has worked through the Firebirds process to the point where her teammates don't see her for her gender, but as another wrestler who is willing to do what they can to get the win. She wants to build her mental strength every time she takes the mat. Even when things might not go her way, she is always focused on building her mental game.
"I know I have not won a lot of matches this year, but I have improved and it has helped with my confidence knowing that everything won't always go your way," Gerhardt said. "You have to find a way to self motivate."