There was little doubt that West Fargo girls hockey would be a strong contender after returning every player from last season's fifth-place State Tournament team.
But after starting this season 6-0, the Packers are quelling any doubts that might remain.
Adding to its impressive record, West Fargo tacked on a win Friday, Dec. 18, at home against Dickinson, routing the Lady Midgets 11-1.
"We came out pretty good in the first period," said Pat Johnson, West Fargo girls hockey coach. "We had a good start to the second period, too, but we came out a little flat in the third and (Dickinson) scored."
West Fargo junior winger Kacie Johnson stole the show once again, sparking the Packers' scoring run with a goal at 2:59 in the first period and finishing with four goals on the night. Johnson currently leads North Dakota in points with 21, while Fargo North's Haley Olmstead is a distant second with 15.
Nipping on Olmstead's heels is Johnson's teammate, Kelsey Kloos, who currently sits at No. 3 in the state with 14 points.
"She's doing really well," said Johnson of Kloos, who had a banner night against Dickinson. She put up four points, cranking out a hat trick and assisting on Courtney Ellenson's goal in the third period.
Johnson had to do some rearranging going into the game as three defensemen were hurt.
"We moved two fourth-liners back and played five D," he said. "We still had some minor breakdowns, but they did a nice job."
Andrea Klug made 17 saves and currently sits with an astounding 96.5 saves percentage. Lady Midgets goalie Megan Dukart made 32 saves.
West Fargo has a long break until it plays again Tuesday, Dec. 29, on the road against Jamestown. The Bluejays are just 1-2 this season, but Johnson isn't taking them for granted.
"It's not a walk in the park," he said. "It scares you a bit because you're coming off a break from Christmas .
"Hopefully, (the Packers) come back with renewed legs and are ready to play."
Boys hockey ends three-game skid with tie against Bruins
After winning three games in a row to start the season, Packers boys hockey took a slide, losing three straight before ending the skid with a 3-3 tie Saturday against Fargo South.
On Tuesday, West Fargo headed north to battle conference rival Grand Forks Central. The Knights (3-0-0 EDC, 7-1-0 overall) went to town, blanking the Packers 6-0.
Starting Central's roll was Aaron Hatt, who took a feed from Luke Johnson for the goal at 16:42 in the first period. It was all downhill from there for West Fargo (1-3-1, 3-3-1), as the Knights peppered Packers goalie Cameron Holland, who ended the night with 44 saves. Conversely, West Fargo only had three shots on goal during the first and third periods, and Knights goalie Seth Lang made 13 stops altogether.
Coming off the lopsided loss, the Packers were looking at an uphill battle against Fargo South, who they had not beat in "quite a while," said West Fargo co-coach Tim Capouch.
Maybe because of their recent skid or because of their last run-in with the Bruins, Capouch decided a change was needed.
"We switched the lines up since the last game against South," he said. "It was just better chemistry."
The switch put brothers Dusty and Conor Jonasson on the same line with Dusty Munyer. The new concoction was just what the doctor ordered. The Jonasson-Jonasson-Munyer connection accounted for West Fargo's first goal by Munyer, as well as its final, game-tying goal with 25 seconds left in the third period, when Conor got the score. Brandon Tendeland accounted for the Packers' other goal.
Keeping West Fargo from falling behind was Holland, who stifled 42 shots.
"Cam played really good; both goalies played really good," Capouch said. "Everybody played well. It was a pretty complete game."
The Packers hopefully can carry the momentum from the tie over to their next endeavor, when they head to Fergus Falls, Minn., for a tournament on Dec. 28-30.
West Fargo boys basketball team stays undefeated
Through two Eastern Dakota Conference games and three games overall, the Packers boys basketball team is playing for perfection.
"We're excited with the start," said Greg Limke, West Fargo boys basketball coach. "We played three close games right away and have been able to pull them out."
Close indeed. On Tuesday, Dec. 15, the West Fargo boys basketball team traveled to Grand Forks. The Packers beat the Roughriders 70-65, but not before clawing back from a nine-point halftime deficit.
Then on Saturday, the Packers headed to Devils Lake to fight off a hungry Firebirds squad. West Fargo ended the first half by a mere two-point lead and finished with a close 55-52 win.
"The scenario has been similar in all three games: Dig a hole in the first half and claw our way back," Limke said.
A big key to West Fargo's success has been the effort of junior Chase Farkas, who put up 17 points in both games.
"Well, you know, he's been playing well for us at crunch time and if he's gone our team is gone," Limke said of Farkas. "We've been able to ride his coattails at times down the stretch. ... He's able to create for other and get those easy baskets."
Another player who shined for the Packers was Austin Nelson. He only had two points against Devils Lake, but earned a double-double against the Roughriders with 26 points and 11 rebounds.
The Roughriders were led by Luke Schreiner's 39 points while Devils Lake was paced by Taylor Hoffart's 14 points.
If the Packers want to continue their unbeaten streak, figuring out that first-half slump is critical.
"We haven't pinpointed how to improve our starts, we'll definitely need to work on that," Limke said. "But we're persistent, we've stuck with it even though we've struggled through all three games, we've been able to keep battling and make plays at the end. Competitiveness has kept us in it."
West Fargo had a game Tuesday at Fargo North, but it was not finished when this edition of the Pioneer went to press. Next up for the Packers is a home game against Bismarck Century on Monday, Dec. 28, at 7:45 p.m.
Wrestling places third
Out of a field of 35 teams from across the region, the West Fargo wrestling team placed third at last weekend's Minnesota Christmas Tournament in Rochester.
"We're really excited about how we did," said Packers coach Kayle Dangerud. "Going into it as coaches, we kind of talked about it and we would have been happy with a top-10 finish.
"To take third it's really great. Hopefully that's a sign of things to come."
The Packers even managed to edge out defending North Dakota state champion Bismarck by three points. Does this mean the Packers are looking at dethroning the Demons this year? According to Dangerud, that's a bit presumptive.
"It lets us know that we can compete with Bismarck," he said. "We still have a lot of improvements to make, and that's exciting for us."
West Fargo saw first-place finishes from Scott Schiller at 215 and Tyler Lehmann at 189. Lehmann's former team of Apple Valley, Minn., also was there and took first place overall.
The Packers also had a big night from Preston Lehmann, who took fourth place in the 160 class and pinned Plainview-Elgin-Millville's Blaine Miller, a No. 1-ranked wrestler in the U.S. Other placers were Tom Kuehn, who snagged third place at 125 and Jordan Shearer, who placed eighth at 103.
West Fargo's next big competition is the Rumble on the Red from Dec. 29-30, in Fargo.
Boys swimming team place first at Spartan Pentathlon
The West Fargo boys swimming and diving team remains flawless after taking first place at last weekend's Spartan Pentathlon at Fargo North.
Ethan Doll, Jake Weible, Jared Sykora and Daniel Hulbert each had top-three finishes for the Packers. But West Fargo's talent doesn't end with those four swimmers.
"We have a really versatile lineup," said West Fargo coach Marsha Dahl. "We have a good nucleus of talent on the team. We're just kind of moving people around and finding where they best suit our lineup."
At the Packers current rate, finishing with another State Tournament title isn't out of the question.
"This is something that this team has slowly worked toward," Dahl said. "It has taken a lot of time to get here and we're just going to enjoy it. The young kids are excited to be part of such a talented team."
The Packers have a couple weeks off and don't compete again until Thursday, Jan. 7, when they head to Grand Forks for a dual. West Fargo's next home meet is Jan. 8, with Bismarck Century paying a visit.
Did you know?
The most recent North Dakota wrestling poll has West Fargo ranked No. 1 in the EDC and No. 2 in state Class A. The Packers also have eight wrestlers ranked in the top five: Shearer (No. 1 at 103), Kuehn (No. 2 at 125), Zach Neer (No.2 at 152), Preston Lehmann (No. 5 at 160), Eric Lehmann (No. 2 at 171), Tyler Lehmann (No. 1 at 189), and Schiller (No. 1 at 215).
Tyler Shoberg is Sports Editor of the Pioneer. He can be reached at 701-451-5717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.