Whether the West Fargo boys soccer team won during the last week of the regular season didn't really matter since one encompassing fact remained:
They're going to state.
Qualifying for the North Dakota state tournament for the first time since 2005, the Packers finished the regular season 9-5-4 overall and 4-3-3 in the Eastern Dakota Conference, one point behind second-placed Grand Forks central (10-4-3, 5-2-2).
This year's state tournament is at the Hillcrest Soccer Complex in Jamestown, N.D. Quarterfinals begin today (Oct. 15) with the championship semifinals being played tomorrow (Oct. 16).
After dropping close games to Grand Forks Central on Sept. 29 and Fargo Shanley on Oct. 3, West Fargo boys soccer coach Doug Millar had to rethink his team's strategy.
"When we were playing really well, we didn't vary what we did, we just tried to fine-tune," Millar said, referring to his team's early success. The Packers went on a roll in the beginning of the season, losing only once during their first 11 contests. Since then, they've dropped four of their last seven games. "They kind of lost their edge."
"The staff and I, we sat down and said 'let's try something different, something they haven't seen.' And the kids, I thought they really responded well," Millar said.
Whatever Millar and his staff did, it must have worked; the Packers tied the Deacons 1-1 on Tuesday, Oct. 6, in a muddy matchup that left both teams soaked, but were edged 2-1 by Fargo South (15-1-3, 8-0-2) on Thursday, Oct. 8.
"For only one night of practice, to come out and connect like they did it was really good," Millar said after Tuesday night's game.
After a first half largely controlled by West Fargo, a trickling goal from Fargo Shanley's Ian Lancaster at 51:00 in the second half seemed to change the games' momentum.
However, a quick goal not more than 30 seconds later returned equilibrium. On Shanley's end of the field, an arrant shot by West Fargo's Jade Johnson appeared headed wide of the net. However, Emmanuel Sinzinkayo snagged the lose ball just as Deacons goalkeeper Ben Glogoza sprawled for a block. In one deft move, Sinzinkayo sent the ball sailing into the far corner of the net.
He raced to the center of the field, raising his fists in triumph.
"I'm very pleased with the fact that the kids were able to come back" from the goal, Millar said.
"But we can play much better than even what we played (Tuesday). It's just a matter of getting our confidence back up."
On Thursday, Fargo South scored two goals in the first half, forcing the Packers to play catch-up nearly the entire game. Finally, at 78:00 in the second half, Austin Dillard scored to bring West Fargo within one. But it was too little, too late.
Get ready to rumble
As far as preparing for the state tournament, Millar doesn't see a need for any major overhauls.
"You want to be able to consistently do the things you do well. And that's kind of the way we approached it," he said. "We'll do a little variation, but I don't think we'll stray a lot from what we have done."
Much like Tuesday's game, when West Fargo scored shortly after the Deacons, controlling the ball after any goal is critical. According to Millar, if the opposition scores, West Fargo must pressure the field and try to get a goal as quickly as possible.
Conversely: "If we do score first, I really, really want our striker to pressure the ball right away. I don't want (the other team) to be able to do anything fancy with it. I want them to have to grind to get it to midfield," he said. "If we get back within that five minutes of consuming that time after we've scored, and nothing has happened, that's a win."
If not for the late-season slipup, West Fargo may have had a shot at the EDC championship. However, Millar doesn't want to downplay the significance of his team's accomplishment.
"(We don't want to take) away from the fact these young man are going to state, and it's the first time since 2005, that's huge," he said. "We want to be playing well, that's the most important thing right now."
Just as long as Mother Nature doesn't get in the way.
"I just hope the weather cooperates a little bit. I've heard there's snow in the forecast," Millar quipped. "But we'll see."