Three tips: what Devils Lake Wrestling must do to succeed this season

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – Opposing wrestlers might have scoffed at the thought before, but no longer. After the 2020-21 season taught them otherwise, the 2021-22 season will prove to be fatal if they take on the Devils Lake Firebirds with the same mentality. 

Devils Lake's 2020-21 season was an important one. A 7-2 Eastern Dakota Conference (EDC) record and a 9-7 overall record in the dual varsity standings culminated with a second-place finish last season. However, the success did not end in terms of the team's dual performance. When speaking about each wrestler, the Firebirds scorched ahead to new heights as seven wrestlers placed in State (tied for a program-best in a single season). Considering the program was walking the mile toward termination not even a decade ago, the turnaround has been a spectacle, especially in the eyes of Brendon Flynn. Flynn goes into his fifth year as the team's wrestling head coach. 

A magical 2020-21 campaign, however, is in the rear-view mirror. Now, the Firebirds must look to keep the ship steering in the right direction toward bigger and even better expectations. 

Here are three tips the Firebirds must keep in mind as they begin their new season. 

1. Keep the course 

Devils Lake's EDC Dual Team success was supplemented with a strong sixth-place showing in the Class A Dual Tournament. Moving forward, the team will need to build on this finish with the others and adjust to the new level of play.

"We definitely know what we are capable of," Devils Lake head coach Brendon Flynn said. "We got over that fear. This is my fifth year. In my first couple of years, the thing I kept telling our kids was to quit knocking on the door and just finally kick it in. No one is going to let you into that elite group, so if you want in, you just have to make your way in. That is what they did. The last two years that is what we have done. My first two years, it was a lot of them getting used to who I am and buying into what I was selling to them." 

If the Firebirds continue to buy into the mindset of not backing down against more considerable competition, the sky is the limit. 

To Flynn, it is all about staying on the path toward constant improvement. This philosophy goes in line with the team's motto: "do something great." 

Senior wrestler Colton Young (left) practices a wrestling technique.

"I think it is one of the greatest messages he has said," senior wrestler Colton Young said. "I have it on my class ring."

"They are a fiery group of kids that want to go out and show what they can do," Flynn said. "I see it carrying over big-time. We have many kids who got a taste of placing at State, and they want to do more. They are hard-working kids. I expect them to hit the ground running once we start. I have a couple of kids that wrestle year-round, and that is all they do. They live and breathe it, so I am super excited to see what is going to happen here." 

2. Do not settle 

Turning heads and taking the silver was a monumental leap in the right direction, but it is not enough for Flynn and the program in its entirety. To Flynn, settling leads to losing. Instead, the Firebirds have maintained a sturdy mindset of setting the bar even higher. 

This is precisely the mentality the Firebirds must grasp should they wish to achieve their goal. 

"That is the bar we set," Flynn said. "We do not accept anything less. Yeah, we took second and finished second. It is not that we are not happy about that, but if you set your expectations low, that is all you will ever have. That is all you are ever going to be. Average. If you have average expectations and average goals, that is all you are ever going to be. That is a testament to our program and what we are about. We set those high expectations, so that is what we work for." 

3. Stay mentally tough 

An eighth-place finish in the Class A Individual Tournament for James Charboneau becomes even more impressive when understanding the context. After all, Charboneau forced enough pins on top-flight competition to claw back from elimination and instead place. Whether it be Charboneau, William Sprenger (who finished second in his weight class last season) or another up-and-comer, the Firebirds will need to keep their head on a swivel and maintain their current place. 

Devils Lake Wrestling head coach Brendon Flynn happily talks with a group of wrestlers during practice.

"We have some kids who just do not understand quit," Flynn said. "That is their defining characteristic in that we have some kids that placed, and if you went on a skill set, they were counted out kind of kids. Talented kids, yes, but definitely there were more athletic kids. Just their mental toughness is the reason that we were able to do that and overcome a lot of adversity last year."

From Young's perspective, mental toughness revolves around not letting outside noise get in the way, including team and individual rankings. As a wrestler who finished eighth, Young understands the importance of staying focused. 

"It is really important," Young said. "I have to keep calm and continue. Do not let rankings get ahead in my mind. Just stay calm and finish my year good and my senior year out."