The West Fargo girls basketball season was a success, coach Barb Metcalf said.
"We can take a lot away from the season," said Metcalf, who coached her second season with the Packers. "As coaches, even though we didn't make it to state, we believe we accomplished as much as last year because we beat some really good teams at the end."
The Packers girls basketball team qualified for the North Dakota state tournament for the first time last season. Even though they didn't repeat the feat during last weekend's Eastern Dakota Conference tournament in Grand Forks, they still proved they were fierce competitors.
"I know I've said it before, but they really do have the heart of a champion," Metcalf said. "We had some nice wins at the end against tough opponents."
West Fargo's season ended Saturday, after the No. 6 Packers dropped a state-qualifying game 57-41 to No. 1 Grand Forks Red River. Prior to that, West Fargo fell 56-49 to Fargo Shanley in the opening round before beating Grand Forks Central 56-50 in the consolation semifinals.
It seemed too abrupt a finish for a West Fargo team that just found its stride after going 6-of-10 during the second half of the regular season (they were 2-of-9 in the first half). Still, the Packers can chalk it up as another year of experience, when they were 6-8 in the EDC and 9-13 overall.
"It was one of those springboard seasons," Metcalf said.
During the East Region tournament, West Fargo standouts continued to lead by example. Junior Katelyn Holland - who ranks third in the EDC and first on her team in points with 329 and a 17.3-per-game average - put up 50 points for the series, of which 24 came in West Fargo's win over the Knights. The Packers' No. 2 scorer, junior Carissa Becher, had a combined total of 32 points. She ranked seventh in the EDC with 258 points and a 14.3 average.
Both Becher and Holland were named to the All-EDC team and, looking ahead, Metcalf said the pair will be "key leaders for next year."
The biggest blow of the tournament for West Fargo came against the Deacons. The teams were tied 28-28 at the half, before Shanley pulled ahead. "We just didn't finish the game," Metcalf said.
If there was a bright side to the game, it's the standout play of little-known Christine Baltezore.
"She kept us in the game," Metcalf said.
The freshman, who moved up from the sophomore and junior varsity teams, had a breakout 12-point game against the Deacons. If Baltezore is an indication of things to come, then the Packers have some serious potential waiting in the wings.
During the next round, West Fargo faced a must-win situation against Central. Though the Packers beat the Knights twice during the regular season, Metcalf wondered how her team would rebound following the tough defeat by Shanley.
"It's hard to beat a team three times (in a season)," she said. "It shows poise on our girls' part that they pulled it off."
Now with their season over, the Packers have begun planning for next year.
"There's a lot of excitement; they're hungry for another season," Metcalf said.
West Fargo will be returning the bulk of their veterans, while only losing two seniors (Courtney Voeller and Jenna Green). But don't read too much into it.
"The conference will get that much stronger next year," Metcalf said. "It's a strong junior class in the EDC all the way through.
"There's just so much parity, and to me, that's showing that girls basketball is getting more competitive."
For Metcalf, every year is a good year when the Packers show they've made improvements and grown as a team.
"We're in the process of making a program that will last for years," she said.