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Boys win East Region title, take third at state

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The West Fargo boys track and field team had something to prove coming into the season.

After finishing runner-up for the third year in a row during last year's East Region tournament, the boys could do nothing but watch as their female counterparts took the title.

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This year, it was the boys' turn.

"Our goal was to win EDC and do well at state," West Fargo senior Jamison Gehrig said. "We got the job done and did what we had to do."

The Packers took Top-10 finishes in nearly every East Region event to claim first place with 182 points, leaving a healthy 59-point gap between themselves and runner-up Fargo South.

"The boys wanted that EDC championship, and focused on it all season," West Fargo track and field coach Darin McKinnon said.

Keying West Fargo's success was an ample balance between events, something McKinnon said is the goal every year. Where the Packer boys truly shine, however, is in distance running.

"We pride ourselves (there). ... We have a strong distance running core and surround that with our sprinters and runners and throwers," McKinnon said. For any track and field team to be successful, "having that distance program is going to be a huge key in your success."

What worked for first place in the East Region tournament also worked at the state tournament May 28-29 in Bismarck. There, the Packers boys and girls teams each finished third, a feat McKinnon said was the best ever for the program.

"As coaches and athletes, you look at where you want to be at the end of the season," he said. "For the boys to be champions and the girls runner-up (at EDC), and both finishing third at the state meet was a huge accomplishment for the year."

Much of the boys' success came from its senior leadership. Gehrig, who plans to attend Minnesota State University-Moorhead in the fall and will race in cross country and track for the Dragons, was one of those leaders. Not only did he take first place in the 1,600- and 3,200-meters at the East Region, but followed suit with second-place finishes in the same events at state, as well as running a leg with the second-place 4x800 relay team.

"I feel great about it," Gehrig said of his performance at state. "A state championship would have felt nice, but points are points.

"I was just happy to finally have a good state meet."

Gehrig also took part in the 800-meters at state, finishing 13th. By that point, however, he was "just out of gas," McKinnon said. "But it was his last race of the year, so we told him 'give it your best shot.'"

Another senior who was slated to make a lot of noise this season was two-time All-Conference recipient Spencer Uetz. Injured for approximately four weeks at the end of the season with a broken toe, however, Uetz struggled to make the impact he wanted.

"When you have a senior as talented as Spencer, it was tough for him ... and the team," McKinnon said.

But Uetz didn't let a broken toe keep him out of participating in the postseason. He managed to finish sixth in the 1,600 at EDC, and ran a leg along with Gehrig, Nate Peterson and Jake Kroke in the 4x800 relay. But Uetz's biggest impact at state may have come in the 800-meters, where he placed eighth and picked up a critical point for the Packers.

"The boys were third by only one point," McKinnon said. "That 800 eighth place kind of sealed third place."

Every senior that graduates leaves a void in a program. According to McKinnon, two seniors in particular who will be missed are Levi Bachmeier and Mason Herman. The duo competed in field events that, in previous years, were areas of lost points for West Fargo.

Herman chucked a shot put nearly 44 feet for fifth in the East Region, and also placed 15th at state. Bachmeier was a pinnacle in pole vault, placing fifth at EDC and clearing 14 feet at state for fourth place.

"It wasn't that long ago that we didn't even have the pole vault," McKinnon said. "To see Levi clear 14 feet and break the school record is amazing.

"He won't be back next year, but he left a crew of kids who, hopefully, will be able to pick up where he left off."

Next year there will be several seniors who stand to keep West Fargo's legacy intact. Shane Hillen was a strong sprinter as a junior, placing sixth in the 200 at the East Region, as well as finishing first at EDC and fourth at state in the 400-meters.

Hillen also was a part of several relay teams during the season, running legs with the seventh-place state 4x100 team, the third-place state 4x400 relay team, and the second place EDC 4x200 team that was subsequently disqualified in state. Fellow relay runners in the events included Shane Siverson, Alex Spacek, Brandon Gibson, Jackson Lahren and Ryne Schaeffer.

"Relays are the most important part of the program," McKinnon said. "Our kids pride themselves in being part of those relays."

Other seniors to watch include Peterson and Josh Hanson, who both had Top-10 finishes at EDC and placed at state in the 3,200 meters.

And even though running events seem to get a majority of the interest in track and field, West Fargo's jumping program has taken off recently, McKinnon said.

"By the end of the season, our jumps were a huge reason for the success of our boys," he said.

Ransi Thomas and Michael Reiner were big hits, too. The soon-to-be seniors both placed sixth in the East Region, the latter in the 300-meter hurdles and the former in the 100 hurdles. Nick Williams, another senior next season, took third place in the long jump at both the EDC and state, and also placed first at EDC and third at state in the triple jump.

But some of the Packers' best leapers came from underclassmen. Freshmen Jaime Heinen, Jordan Bishoff and Chaz Gunderson all placed well in jumping events. Heinen and Bishoff finished 1-2 at EDC in the high jump, and were fifth and 14th at state.

Though field events have been a point of weakness in the past for West Fargo, McKinnon said to watch for a wave of young talent to surge during the next few years.

"We have a nice crew of underclassmen that we are going to be working with, and feel will be scoring points," he said.

Overall, the Packers boys track and field team finished the year as well as they have in recent memory. With many top veterans slated to return, as well as hordes of fresh talent to bolster their forces, improving on this epic season isn't out of the question.

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