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West Fargo's Tom Kuehn goes for the pin in a 130-pound match during the East Region meet Saturday in Wahpeton. Kuehn took home the individual title, and helped the Packers defend their conference title for the second straight year. Photo by Melody Neer

PACKERS DEFEND EAST REGION CROWN

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PACKERS DEFEND EAST REGION CROWN
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The West Fargo wrestling team finished the regular season runner-up to Fargo South in the Eastern Dakota Conference standings.

But when it mattered most, the Packers came out on top.

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West Fargo successfully defended its East Region title during last weekend's meet in Wahpeton, earning its second straight conference crown and its fourth in six years.

"We felt good about the way we competed," Packers coach Kayle Dangerud said. "But, you know, it's just the first step in a two-week postseason."

That next step begins Thursday, when West Fargo joins teams from across North Dakota during the state tournament at the FargoDome. The Packers will attempt to defend their dual championship - which they won for the first time in school history last season - as well as return several wrestlers who either won individual crowns, or who will be working to improve on last year's results. The Packers are ranked No. 3 in the state in the latest polls, behind No. 2 Bismarck Century and No. 1 Bismarck.

And West Fargo received a taste of what may be to come at last weekend's EDC meet. The Packers brought home five individual titles, and had no wrestler finish lower than fifth in his weight class. The Packers improved on last year's win by a hefty margin, gleaning 264 points - a meet record - to take the overall meet win. Their next closest competition was Fargo South, which finished runner-up with 197 points.

"I thought, going in, that we could compete pretty well, but to win by 60-something point is pretty impressive," Dangerud said.

Jordan Shearer brought home his second straight East Region title at 103-pounds.

"He wrestled a really good match," Dangerud said.

The eighth grader, who is ranked No. 2 in the state, upset No. 1-ranked Tom Walton of Fargo North in the championship match. Shearer avenged a loss earlier this season to Walton, defeating the Spartan 7-1. Shearer will attempt to defend his 103-pound title at the state tournament.

Trevor Kringlie won the 112-pound championship by taking down teammate Kollin Kragnes in the title match. Kringlie, who is ranked No. 2 in the state, defeated Kragnes by an 8-2 decision. Kragnes was playing unattached, but earned a fifth-seed spot in the state tournament with his finish.

"He'd be starting in most teams," Dangerud said of Kragnes, who defeated the No. 1 seed to advance to the title bout. "He's a really solid wrestler."

Kringlie finished fourth place at 103 pounds during last year's state tournament.

Seniors Tom Kuehn and Zach Neer also took home individual titles.

No. 2-state-ranked Kuehn dropped No. 3 Reed Beckman of Valley City by an 18-5 decision in the 130-pound title match. Kuehn, a senior, will try to best last year's state effort, when he finished runner-up at 125 pounds.

Neer, who is ranked fifth in the state at 152 pounds, edged a former teammate, Wahpeton's Michael Lehmann, 4-3 for the championship.

The Packers' other title came from Preston Lehmann at 171 pounds. The No. 1-ranked Lehmann pinned No. 2 Lucas Moderow, of Fargo South, in 5 minutes, 59 seconds. Lehmann was runner-up at 160 pounds during last year's state tournament.

Other top West Fargo finishes came from Weston Dobler (second at 119 pounds), Christian Ramberg (third at 119, unattached), Angelo Shephard (second at 125), Shelby Schulz (third at 145), Miles Scholl (second at 160), and Drew Johnson (third at 215).

With such a sound finish at the conference meet, the Packers should be ready for a tough three-day state tournament. Their biggest obstacle, however, may be repeating their defeat of Bismarck, which returns a lot of talent from last year.

"I think (they) obviously are a great wrestling team, especially this year; they have some outstanding seniors," Dangerud said "But we just have to keep doing what we're doing. ... Hopefully we can challenge Bismarck and some of the top teams in the state. We have a lot of good things going for us."

And while titles may be on the line, finishing their year on a high note weighs heavily on the minds of all, especially seniors like Kuehn and Lehmann.

"Everyone who has worked hard all year long, they want to be a state champ or whatever their goals are," Dangerud said. "I think they're on the right track and we have to stay focused.

"And, you know, these guys have wrestled a tough schedule. If they can keep the momentum going from last week's East Region win, I think they'll do just fine."

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