Akin to its Bruins mascot, Fargo South has had the North Dakota boys golf scene by the throat for more than a decade. In the past 13 years, the Bruins have acquired 11 state tournament titles.
They've been met with seemingly little resistance. Last season, for example, South managed to take first place in every conference meet except for one in which they finished second to West Fargo.
From the surface, this year doesn't look much better for the remainder of the Eastern Dakota Conference teams. The Bruins should return nearly all of their top golfers, including seniors Tanner Jones and Lukas Davison and junior Coy Papacheck. If there is any solace teams can take, it is that individual state tournament champion Kyle Jandro graduated last spring.
So given their good odds, does Fargo South have it in them to go for a seventh state title in as many years?
Maybe, but not if the Packers have anything to do about it.
"Obviously, they're the ones everyone shoots for," West Fargo co-coach Steve Anderson said of the Bruins. "But we expect to contend, we expect to be there. I'll be disappointed if we can't challenge for the top spot."
"We are cautiously optimistic," co-coach Chuck Gad said.
And rightfully so. West Fargo is coming off one of its best boys golf seasons to date, in which it placed fourth at the East Region tournament to qualify for state. There the Packers finished third overall with a team score of 656 - 17 strokes off second-place Wahpeton, and 40 strokes off Fargo South.
Gad and Anderson hope that high level of experience translates to even greater results this season, and leading the way will be a slew of golfers with abilities to do just that.
One such golfer is Logan Palmer. The junior had a breakout season as a sophomore, finishing seventh in the East Region tournament and fourth at the state tournament after shooting a 153 two-day total - only two strokes off Jandro. Palmer earned All-EDC and All-State honors for his efforts.
"He really came on as a sophomore last year," Anderson said. "He had a strong finish to the year."
Palmer finished sixth among EDC golfers during the season, averaging 77.4 strokes per round. His best finish was a 73 he shot May 20, on Forest Green Golf Course in Detroit Lakes, Minn.
Palmer won't be the only returner capable of carrying West Fargo's torch, however. Veteran experience is on the Packers' side, as six seniors will be at the team's disposal, and all of the players who participated in both the region and state competitions will be back.
Pieces coming together
Gad and Anderson have four of the six starter spots on the varsity team shored up. Joining Palmer will be sophomore Connor Holland and seniors John Sund and Jared Cowden. Last season, Holland's lowest score was a 73, and he was second behind Palmer for team average with 80.83. Sund was in a close third with 81.25, while Cowden averaged 82 strokes.
And though some athletes may take a break after their season ends, several Packers kept hard at it through the summer.
"Some of these guys that are part of that region team were in some high competition tournaments," Anderson said.
Holland and Sund were two such players. After shooting back-to-back 73s, Holland placed third last June during the KX4 Amateur Tournament at the Moorhead Country Club. Sund, meanwhile, finished second during the North Dakota Golf Association Junior Golf Tournament in June, with a two-day score of 149. Cowden golfed the same tournament, placing third in his flight with a 161.
"They were in some pressure situations," Anderson said. Hopefully that translates to better preparedness for the stiff competition the high school season will bring, he said.
The final two starting positions are in flux, the West Fargo coaches said. For their first meet Monday at King's Walk Golf Course in Grand Forks, senior Alex Erickson and sophomore Luke Olson earned the spots.
But that could change as the season wears on.
"We've got team competition for those fifth and sixth spots," Anderson said. The team has talent across the board, "it isn't like we drop off right there."
Seniors Robert Lytle and Ryan Olien were two more counterparts to the successful regional team who should play significant roles again this season.
"We really think with that experience ...they're at a point now where they should be able to go out and shoot in the 70s just about every time," Anderson said, not only of Lytle and Olien, but of his entire team. That kind of strength and continuity is crucial for success, especially against East Region teams like Grand Forks Central, Wahpeton and, of course Fargo South.
"Coach Gad and I have both talked about this," Anderson, explaining what it would take to consistently win against the Bruins. "Fargo South has been so strong in past years. If one of your top guys has a rough time, (South has) a sixth guy who will shoot a 76 every time.
"You have to have a team that is strong all the way through, and I think that's how we are this year."
A good gauge for just how ready the Packers are to face their competition will come during the East-West Classic on March 22-23. Friday's round will take place at Rose Creek Golf Course, while Saturday's is at Village Green. Gad and Anderson hope West Fargo gets a good jump on the season, and will have the opportunity to size up the rest of the teams in the state.
In fact, both coaches are raising the bar for their athletes this season.
"Normally, we started off to finish high in the region and hopefully make state," Gad said. "This year, we really want to go to state and contend. Usually it's just to qualify, but this year we feel we should be able to compete for the top spot."