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The Packer boys swimming team won its first state championship this past year. Zach Cormican of West Fargo swims to a second place finish in the 200 yard IM during a swim meet with Mandan. File photo

End of year wrap captures memorable moments

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Just like every school year, 2008-2009 had its share of memorable moments in Packer athletics. Once again it's our obligation to try to put it all into perspective.

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Instead of a sport-by-sport review of all 23 varsity sports, we at the West Fargo Pioneer decided to do something a little different and rank the top moments and athletes. Surely the lists will create controversy, which isn't always a bad thing.

Email your complaints and suggestions to chetdecker2027@hotmail.com, and enjoy the third annual Pioneer Packer sports rankings.

Swimming, softball titles

highlight banner year for Packer athletics

10. Diamond win streak. A new-look Packer baseball team finished the season with a 19-9 overall record by winning 12 of 13 games before their luck ran out in the final games of the EDC tournament. Junior Matt Strahm even hurled a no-hitter during the streak. The team may not have made the state tournament, but the young West Fargo team showed it's on the verge of something big.

9. Records on ice. A slew of Packer boys hockey scoring records fell this year as the team tied the school record for most team points in a season. Ten players scored more than 10 points this season, including six with 20 or more. Single season defenseman scoring and assist records were also broken.

8. Perfection repeated. The Packer volleyball team made it two EDC seasons in a row of undefeated conference play. West Fargo, led by seven talented seniors, brought a 22-match win streak into the state tournament where it finished in third place.

7. Golfers swing away. The Packer boys golf team usually plays near the middle of the EDC pack, but not this season. Spring flooding caused a whole lot of postponements, forcing the Packers to compete four times in four days in mid-May. West Fargo took advantage, earning an invite win and three second places before landing in a very impressive third place at state. It gets better: Everyone competing at state will be back next year.

6. Schiller Thriller. Junior Scott Schiller pinned all four of his state tournament opponents to win the 189 lb. title and repeat as a state champion. His 45-2 record broke his own school record for wins in a season. It's a rare occasion where a personal achievement makes the Pioneer top 10 - normally reserved for team accomplishments - but Schiller was phenomenal. He never lost a match to an in-state opponent.

5. The big game. The Packer boys basketball team played its way to the state tournament championship game for the first time since 1992 with wins over Williston and Bismarck before losing to Mandan by 11 points in the big game.

"I'll say this for these guys - from day one they didn't believe that they weren't supposed to play in the state championship game," said Packers coach Greg Limke. "They believed all year long that they should be there, from the end of last year's state tournament all the way to the state championship game. The attitude of the guys was, 'Why don't we belong there?' And they never thought anything different."

4. Double XC titles. A whopping 12 Packer runners made the all-EDC team behind their performances that earned the Packer girls their second conference championship in a row and the boys their first ever. It wasn't obvious what teams would come away with conference titles until the results were tabulated.

"We sat around for quite a long time until we were sure with the boys," said West Fargo coach Joe Bailey. "I didn't know for sure that the girls had won until they read the team titles later."

3. More track titles. The Packer girls track team struck gold at the state meet again this season, and a pair of familiar names had a lot to do with it. Junior Ellie Grooters three-peated as the 100 and 300 hurdles state champ, while freshman Alissa Mears defended her 1600 title. The pair teamed up with eighth-graders Christine Baltezore and Leah Hermanson to win the 3200 relay state title.

"...Top to bottom, this was a great weekend for track and field, the best that I think I've been a part of," said West Fargo coach Darin McKinnon.

2. The streak stays alive. The Packer softball team made it a dozen state championships in a row, with the latest coming in softball's inaugural season as an officially-sanctioned high school sport. It means more honors for West Fargo and state coach of the year Pat Johnson. The Packers, with only four experienced varsity players to start the year, finished the year with a 22-5 overall record.

"It was a crazy feeling, like, 'Oh my gosh, we just won.' After that last out everyone just kind of ran and jumped and hugged each other," said senior second baseman Jessica Woodbury. "We were all excited and screaming."

1. Glory is here! The Packer boys swimming team, often second fiddle to powerhouse Minot, won its first state championship in school history behind an entire roster of talented, versatile swimmers that wouldn't quit. They didn't just beat out the rest of the state tourney field either; they crushed it, winning by nearly 150 points. Nine Packers were named all-state. The Packers, led by coach of the year Marsha Dahl, return plenty of talent next season to make a run at defending the state title.

"It was amazing. It was unbelievable," said senior Thomas French. "I never expected that we'd beat everyone by that much. It was just amazing. I don't know; it was indescribable."

Jones, Schiller named

athletes of the year

The criteria to make the top 10 female and male athletes lists aren't set in stone. If it were only about endurance, then every cross country and swimming athlete would surely be mentioned. If it were only about power, then the offensive line on the football team and the throwers in track and field would be high on the lists. If it were about speed, the running backs, hockey high scorers, soccer forwards and sprinters would garner most of the mention.

But it's not just about those qualities. It's also about success, accolades, statistics and contributions. There's no BCS computer adding up anyone's worth here. It's simply the opinion of one man who covered Packer athletics during the school year. Multi-sport athletes get SERIOUS consideration.

Top female athletes

10. Christine Baltezore. Only an eighth-grader, Baltezore followed up an all-state cross country season with a relay state title for the girls track team in the 4x800.

9. Ashley Reiter. This senior led the girls swimming team to a second place finish at state, won two individual EDC championship titles and one individual state title and was named the state's senior athlete of the year.

8 (tie). Blake Selisker and Jessie Gust. Selisker led the volleyball team in digs and was named all-state for her impressive senior season before playing girls basketball. Gust, playing the same two sports, was named all-state in volleyball as well as the state's senior athlete of the year. Then she was the fourth-leading scorer for the girls basketball team.

6. Alyssa Hummel. This senior excelled at three sports, playing volleyball and girls basketball (the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder) before excelling in the shot put for the girls track team, where she took fourth at state. She also led the girls hoops' team in minutes played.

5. Jessica Woodbury. The Minnesota transfer student turned in an impressive, three-sport senior season for the Packers in volleyball, girls basketball and softball, where she excelled at second base and hit over .400.

4 (tie). Ellie Grooters and Alissa Mears - a pair of cross country and track stars, along with a few friends, showed the rest of the state that West Fargo is simply a long distance power. Grooters followed up an all-conference cross country season with a relay and two individual state titles in girls track. She also took second in the 100. Grooters, a junior, three-peated as the 100 and 300 state hurdles champion.

Meanwhile Mears simply dominated the entire state at cross country, winning all 11 races she competed in this year, including the state meet where she became the first cross country champ in Packer history. Mears joined Grooters on the state championship 4x800 track relay team and defended her state title in the 1600.

2. Kacie Johnson. Last year's athlete of the year had a tremendous follow-up sophomore season, taking all-state honors in both sports she plays. She led the Packer girls hockey team in goals and assists and was the third-leading points scorer in the state. Johnson then switched to softball where she starred as an outfielder that hit over .400 and as the team's top pitcher.

1. Aryelle Jones. This senior shoots all the way up from last year's No. 5 to the top spot this season, thus earning the title of West Fargo Pioneer Female Athlete of the Year, also known as WFPFAY (don't forget to see who won the WFPMAY).

Dominating volleyball and softball seasons and a very solid girls basketball season earn this three-sport star the honor. The leader in kills and aces for the volleyball team, Jones was named all-state for the Packers, who went undefeated in EDC play. Jones moved on to the girls basketball team where she was the top rebounder and third-leading scorer. It's no coincidence that the girls softball team won its 12th state championship in a row with Jones, named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year, at shortstop. It was her fourth state title. She was a really good player in three different sports for the Packers this year and an easy choice for the WFPFAY.

Top male athletes

10. Tyler Gronbeck. He was a senior guard for the boys basketball team and a pitcher/outfielder for the Packer baseball team.

9. Jake Weible. A junior all-state swimmer, Weible repeated as the 100 backstroke state champion and was on the 200 medley relay state title team.

8. Eric Benson. This senior swimmer was a integral part of the state record-breaking, state championship winning 200 medley relay team. His leadership and talent helped lead the Packer boys swimming team to its first state championship in school history, and he made the all-state team. Benson went on to play outfield for the Packer baseball team.

7. Luke Solum. A senior all-state defensive back for the football team, Solum took second at the state track meet in the long jump.

6 (tie). Spencer Uetz and Jamison Gehrig. These two long distance runners, both juniors, push each other in practice and competition, and it only makes sense they are tied at sixth place. Gehrig was second at cross country EDC, while Uetz was eighth; then they both finished neck-in-neck at state cross, with Gehrig in 13th and Uetz in 14th. They teamed up to do some damage in several relay events during boys track, and both were EDC champs, Uetz in the 1600 and Gehrig in the 3200. Then at state, Gehrig was eighth in the 3200, while Uetz was third in the 1600.

4. Bryce Jorgenson and Alan Neer. It's probably fitting that these two end up tied in the fourth spot. The platooning quarterbacks for the football team complemented each other well. Both could run the ball and throw for yardage. Neer, a senior, went on to play boys basketball, while Jorgenson, a junior, pitched and played third base for the baseball team.

2. Jason Moch. An all-EDC defender for the boys soccer team as well as a part-time kicker for the football team, this senior's top sport was basketball, where he led West Fargo in scoring, rebounding, three-pointers and minutes played. He was then named all-state.

1. Scott Schiller. There's not a whole lot more that can be said about this guy's wrestling talents. The junior went 45-2 in breaking his own school record for wins in a season and took another state title - this one at 189 lbs. That alone would have been enough to at least make this list. That all came after he put in a second-team all-state worthy season for the football team at linebacker. If he took up a spring sport, one wonders if Schiller, the Pioneer male athlete of the year (last year's No. 5), could be a three sport all-state athlete. Packers wrestling coach Kayle Dangerud, by the way, raves about his leadership skills. Packer fans can be glad they get to see our WFPMAY (West Fargo Pioneer Male Athlete of the Year) one more year before he moves on to compete for a big-time college wrestling program.

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