For the first time since 2005, the West Fargo girls track and field team will be without one of its most decorated runners.
"Losing someone like Ellie Grooters is always difficult," Packers coach Darin McKinnon said.
Grooters, the six-time All-Conference runner and four time 100-hurdle and 300-hurdle state-title holder, graduated from West Fargo last spring. She currently is running for the University of Nebraska.
Sure, her loss will be tough to get over, but the Packers are prepared.
"We have a nice core of girls who have the ability to fill in where we need them," McKinnon said.
The Packers are coming off a season in which they placed second at the East Region meet, and took third at state. Certainly a solid ending to the year, but one that leaves room for improvement.
Who to watch
Much like their male counterparts, the West Fargo girls team thrives on diversity. Their biggest advantage on the track and field comes from their vast array of talent. Of the seven Packers named All-EDC, five are coming back: Christine Baltezore, Christina Bruenjes, Brooke Grooters, Keana Karnopp and Jessica Rosenau.
McKinnon pointed to a few athletes who he believes will make an impact this season.
Jill Gustafson is a senior who is ready to lead the way. The Jamestown College recruit will be one such person to fill the shoes of Ellie Grooters.
"She's started out really well for us. She definitely is someone who can do it all," McKinnon said of Gustafson.
During last Friday's Indoor Class A meet, Gustafson took third in the 60-meter hurdles and triple jump, and fourth in the high jump.
"Anytime you can have that senior leadership, that's a good thing," McKinnon said.
Amanda Levin is an underclassman who already has some varsity talent. At Friday's meet, she finished first in the 200-meters with a time of 26.17 seconds. She also ran a leg in the fourth-place 4x400 relay team.
"She's definitely going to be a huge part of sprints and relays," McKinnon said.
As for distance area, the Packers usually are very strong there. Returning to help are Baltezore, Brooke Grooters, Rosenau, Alissa Mears and Britny Bucholz.
"These are girls that give us the strength we rely on," McKinnon said. "The distance runners are our points producers."
For field events, the Packers have weaponry there, too.
Bruenjes won the triple jump at Friday's indoor meet, and was third in the long jump. With the absence of Ellie Grooters, Bruenjes also is West Fargo's only returning state-title holder after she won the triple jump last year with a leap of 36 feet, 10 inches.
As for throwers, McKinnon pointed to Cherae Reeves. The senior was second Friday in the shot put with a throw of 39 feet, 5.25 inches.
"We'll look to her for great things," he said.
These are just a few of the girls that will put West Fargo on the board this season. But like all things, they alone won't do it all.
"We like to have that balance," McKinnon said. "Anytime you have a little bit of depth, that's a good thing.
"We have a good nucleus. Everyone works hard - they're all good competitors."