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Connor Holland takes his second shot on the 18th Hole last Tuesday at the Class A State Tournament on Kings Walk Golf Course in Grand Forks. Looking on are West Fargo teammates Logan Palmer and Riley Johnson, and former teammate John Sund. Submitted photo.

Packers third at boys state golf tournament

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By Tyler Shoberg

A couple weeks ago, West Fargo boys golf co-coach Chuck Gad predicted it would take sub-300 scores to win the state tournament.

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He was right.

Fargo Shanley shot a team score of 286 on Day 1, and finished with a two-day total of 604 to hoist the state title last Tuesday at Kings Walk Golf Course in Grand Forks. The Deacons usurped perpetual champion Fargo South for the first time in seven years. The Bruins were seven shots off the Deacons for second place, and the Packer rounded out the Top 3 with a team score of 624.

"It was a bit of a disappointment," Gad said, of the Packers' finish. "But I knew it was going to be one of those three teams, and that's just where we wound up."

Besides Shanley, South and West Fargo, the Eastern Dakota Conference made itself known in a big way by sweeping the Top 5 spots. Only Fargo North was the anomaly, placing 10th. The East Region was so strong heading into the state tournament, in fact, that some West teams were almost willing to sit it out.

"(One West) coach jokingly said, 'the way you guys are getting, we're just going to stay home," Gad said, with a laugh.

Individually, the East Region cleaned house, placing golfers in the Top 12 spots. Of those, West Fargo's lone state placer was Connor Holland, who hit a two-day 152 that put him in a four-way tie for fourth. The junior improved on his placing from last year's state tournament, in which he shot a 149 to finish seventh.

Six shots off Holland was teammate Logan Palmer, who tied for 14th after hitting a two-day 158. The senior was sitting in 22nd place after shooting 77 on Day 1. This is the first time in three years that Palmer didn't place in the Top 10 at state.

"He had a bit of a rough weekend," Gad said, but in that respect, so did the Packers. "They were unhappy; they had their goals and didn't meet them the way they wanted to."

Last year, West Fargo was a distant second behind Fargo South, having 25 shots off the leader. But even slipping a bit this time by placing third doesn't detract much from the overall outcome.

"Despite the state tournament, our season was a total success," Gad said.

In a sense, the Packers somewhat mirrored the success from a year ago, by finishing in the Top 3 during every conference meet. They did it one step better, however, by taking first in their last three meets, culminating in their first-ever East Region title.

Likewise, Gad and co-coach Steve Anderson were named Conference and State Coaches of the Year for the second consecutive year.

And for all intensive purposes, the Packers proved they could stand up against the best. By the end of the regular season, three West Fargo players found themselves ranked in the Top 10 in the EDC: No. 5 Holland with a 74.83 stroke average, No. 7 Palmer with a 76.83 average, and Luke Olson tied Fargo Shanley's Nick Skafewski for ninth with a 78.17 average.

After garnering that conference title, the Packers were feeling pretty confident heading into state play.

"I felt we had a chance," Gad said, "But we have never played well at Kings Walk for years, and I don't understand why."

Whereas West Fargo took control the week before at the East Region meet, the state tournament was an entirely different animal. After shooting a first-round 301 that had them sitting in fourth place behind Wahpeton, Gad said he knew a state title was out of the question.

"It was a bitter pill the first day. We knew we weren't going to catch up," he said. "But the way Shanley was going, you have to hand it to them; they deserved the championship.

"We set our goals to get third or second, which they responded to really well."

The final round of competition saw a big change in the weather, which translated to hardships on the course.

"The first day was nice, and the second day was miserable," Gad said.

Still, West Fargo was able to hold together for a 323 that put them five strokes ahead of the Huskies. It didn't come easy, however, as confidence was a bit shaky, Gad said, even though the Packers had been characteristically cool all year.

"We haven't been nervous in a meet all year, but you know, I think a couple of the kids were (at state), which surprised me," Gad said.

Riley Johnson was a stable of consistency, shooting a Day 2 80 that was one shot higher than his opening round score. The freshman's 159 tied him for 16th. A stroke back at 160 was teammate Luke Olson, who finished in 18th place.

Nick Evin started strong with a 74, but the change in conditions proved difficult and he shot an 88 on Day 2. The junior was 22nd overall. Rounding out West Fargo's finishers was Payton Johnson, who shot a 165 for a share of 27th place.

With their prep golf season behind them, the Packers can now look forward to a summer of hitting the links and brushing up on their game. And while they will miss not having top senior Palmer next year (he's attending Nebraska Wesleyan University in the fall), Gad is looking forward to getting the bulk of his team back in 2012.

"We'll miss Palmer. He's been with us since the seventh grade," he said. "But we bring back five. We'll be good next year."

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