The North Dakota boys swimming and diving regular season is quickly winding down and, so far, West Fargo has gone largely uncontested. The defending North Dakota state champions beat Fargo South on Friday, Jan. 29, to stay undefeated in duals at 4-0, and have taken first place in three separate tournaments.
Then, the Packers headed to the Jamestown Invitational last weekend and everything changed.
Against Fargo South, the Packers took first place in every event except for the 50-meter freestyle and 200 freestyle relay. Top senior swimmers Jacob Weible, Austin Keller and Jared Sykora took first place in varying events and helped spark West Fargo to a 128-57 rout.
But at the Jamestown Invitational - which hosted teams from all over North Dakota as a sort of preview to the state tournament - the Packers faced their stiffest competition of the year thus far, and wound up placing second behind tournament-winner Minot, which finished with a healthy 94-point lead.
Is this a sign of things to come? Will West Fargo be able to defend the state title? Only time will tell.
The Packers were in the top 10 in several events, but had a tough time finding gold. Weible, the defending state champion in the 100 backstroke, was the only West Fargo swimmer to make it to the top of the podium. He placed first in the 100 backstroke with a 55.82, which bested his previous top time by more than half a second and also bested the All-State first team time. Second-place finisher Joe Burns, of Minot, was more than a second back with 57.01.
Weible beat the all-state second team time in the 100 freestyle with a 49.73, which was good enough for second place and topped his previous best time of 49.94. But Jamestown's Willy Marler took first with 49.08, and now holds the state No. 1 time in the event previously held by Weible.
West Fargo junior Daniel Hulbert also had a solid meet, placing second in both the 200 freestyle and 100 breaststroke. Other second-place finishes came from Keller in the 100 butterfly, and Ethan Doll in the 500 freestyle. The 200 medley relay and 400 free relay teams also picked up second-place finishes.
Keller and Hulbert both were on last year's West Fargo State Champion 200 medley relay team.
Doll's second-place finish was somewhat of a shocker, as the freshman is the defending state champion in the 500 free. He lost to Bismarck Century's Dylan Sether by more than two seconds. Up until the Jamestown Invitational, Doll had held the top time in the state with a 5:08.98 that he swam Jan. 9, at the Manley Invitational. Sether took first with a 5:07.83, which is more than two seconds faster than his previous best competition time of 5:09.84.
Another surprise for the Packers came in the 200 freestyle relay. West Fargo, which currently holds the No. 2 time in the state with a 1:32.64, slipped by nearly five seconds at Jamestown to finish in seventh place with a 1:37.01.
Other top-10 West Fargo times from the invite were as follows: Adam Smestad, 200 freestyle, 1:53.87, third place; Sykora, 50 freestyle, 23.41, third; Doll, 200 individual medley, 2:12.85, fourth; Sykora, 100 butterfly, 57.74, fourth; Keller, 200 individual medley, 2:14.01, sixth; and Smestad, 100 backstroke, 1:00.07, seventh.
The Packers host Mandan on Friday, Feb. 5, at 5 p.m. West Fargo then has two more duals before postseason competition begins. They host Fargo North at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 12, and then host Jamestown at the same time on Feb. 19.
Postseason swimming begins Saturday, Feb. 27 with the Eastern Dakota Conference tournament. The North Dakota state tournament is the following weekend, March 5-6, in Mandan.