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With a 55-3 record the last three years, Devils Lake girls basketball hasn't skipped a beat despite roster turnover

Devils Lake is off to a 5-0 start, ranked No. 2 in the last AP poll, averaging 89.0 points per game and beating opponents on average by 39 points.

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Devils Lake's Ramsey Brown grabs a rebound in the opening round of the ND Girls Class A tournament in Fargo Thursday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

When preseason rankings surfaced for the girls basketball season, Devils Lake -- despite coming off two 25-win seasons -- wasn't ranked in the Top 5 in North Dakota.

The Hoopster magazine ranked the Firebirds at No. 7 and the North Dakota Associated Press poll didn't include Devils Lake in its Top 5.

Firebirds coach Justin Klein even wondered about the potential of his offense.

About a month later and the Firebirds are proving prognosticators -- as well as their head coach -- wrong.

Devils Lake is off to a 5-0 start, ranked No. 2 in the last AP poll, averaging 89.0 points per game and beating opponents on average by 39 points.

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"We still have pretty good players," Klein said. "We have six seniors, so that was good. We've had success and kids underneath have learned and taken things in during the last few years. We've gone to state four years in a row."

The Firebirds are 55-3 in the last three years.

A year ago, Devils Lake had just beaten Fargo Davies in the Class A state tournament semifinals. The team was expected to play Fargo Shanley in the state championship. However, after Devils Lake's semifinal win, the remainder of the tournament was called off due to the emerging coronavirus pandemic.

That abrupt ending still motivates the Firebirds.

"I think we all still think about it," three-year Devils Lake starter Ramsey Brown said. "We know there's nothing we can do about it but work as hard as we can to get back to the state championship game and prove the point that we're good enough to be there.

"We expected people to underrate us this year. We knew we'd have to work just as hard and had the confidence to get back to where we were."

The Firebirds lost three guards from their regular rotation last year but returned all-conference players in Brown and Jailyn Martinson.

Brown, a 5-foot-10 senior forward, is averaging 18.2 points and Martinson, a 5-9 senior forward who's committed to the University of Jamestown, is averaging 16.6 points.

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Devils Lake's incredible offensive numbers are powered by a remarkable rebounding margin, grabbing nearly 20 more rebounds per game than opponents. Rachel Dahlen, a 6-foot-2 junior who Klein noted has been a nice surprise this season, leads the way in that department with 8.8 rebounds per game.

The Firebirds are a more post-oriented team this year than in the past, especially after losing starting point guard Avery Swenson to a torn ACL in the season opener against Grand Forks Central.

"We're running with a bigger lineup, scoring in transition, rebounding and getting the ball out quick," Klein said. "Overall, we're still pressing and trapping. It's just a little different after tweaking it. Team basketball and team chemistry is really good with this group. They share it well. Our system isn't a one-man show."

Malayna Barendt leads Devils Lake and is second in the EDC in assists with 5.8 per game.

"After losing a big group of seniors, we knew we had to step up," Brown said. "Over the last three years, we've been really good at pressuring teams and getting steals. The main difference this year is we have a really good post lineup."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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