This spring could well be a pivotal year for the West Fargo boys' golf team.
Three of the team's top four golfers from last season have graduated, still leaving the Packers with their top golfer and a host of young, enthusiastic golfers.
Coaches have found more high school golfers to work with as the city has grown in size. The coming seasons will show if the Packers can develop into a team that can compete with the conferences' best, or if they will continue to run in the middle to the lower part of the EDC.
West Fargo exceeded expectations at last year's conference meet by finishing fifth and making the state tournament after spending most of the spring near seventh place at conference tournaments.
Despite the departures of Matt Klein, Adam Nelson and Matt Flanagin, the team's No. 2 through No. 4 golfers, co-head coach Steve Anderson said there's reason to be optimistic.
"We're still pretty excited about the outlook for this year. We've got some new seniors now and a couple of younger players that can golf," said co-head coach Steve Anderson.
The Packers are led by all-state senior Casey Stavenger, who finished eighth at the state tournament last season and led the team with an 82.6 average. Unlike last season when Stavenger was outplayed on occasion by his teammates, he's clearly expected to be the Packers' top performer this season.
"I want to be more consistent this year, and be in the top 10 at EDC in a couple tournaments or all of them, instead of just waiting for EDC and state like last season," said Stavenger.
Anderson said Stavenger has improved his game since last season.
"He's low key and steady," said the coach. "We even noticed that he's gotten more mature this year in terms of his strength. He really pokes it out there."
Stavenger is a co-captain this season along with the team's other returning senior Adam Lester, who had the team's sixth-best average last year with an 86.2
"There's a lot of younger kids, so we're trying to be leaders for the team," said Stavenger.
Junior Jason Moch, last year's fifth golfer at 84.9, chose not to golf for the Packers this season.
Others who return with varsity experience include junior Tyler Evin (90.0 average in one varsity meet), sophomores John Sund (86.8 in five) and Ryan Olien (88.0 in one), freshman Logan Palmer (89.0 in two) and eighth-grader Nick Evin (93.0 in one). By comparison, Lester competed in 11 events, while Stavenger participated in 10.
Six Packer golfers compete at each event, and the top four scores are averaged together to comprise the team score. Anderson said varsity rookie sophomore Jared Cowden is also expected to be a regular varsity contributor this season.
Many of the team's younger golfers live near Fargo's Osgood Golf Course, which borders West Fargo. Anderson said he's seen a noticeable difference in the experience and talent levels of the team's junior high-aged golfers.
"Kids have a place to just ride their bikes to and golf. We're getting kids growing up in that area, and that's only going to help," said Anderson.
The Packers, also led by co-head coach Chuck Gad, finished eighth in the 12-team field at the state tournament last season.