Last season, the West Fargo boys basketball team clawed its way to the top of the heap, eventually finding itself in the North Dakota state Class A title game.
The only thing standing between the Packers and a championship was Mandan, the nearly undefeated West Region champion.
That's when it all slipped away as the Braves marched to a 25-14 first-half lead before winning the championship 57-46.
Some West Fargo fans and players may have been disappointed, but finishing runner-up in a state with many talented teams is nothing to brush off. In fact, it was the best state tournament finish for the Packers since back-to-back titles in 1991 and '92.
Much of the Packers' power last season came from its senior class, which accounted for more than 75 percent of all scoring. Six foot, four inch forward Jason Moch was West Fargo's overall points leader (No. 4 in the EDC with 414) and was named to the All State second team. He also was on the State All Tournament team with guard Tyler Gronbeck, and earned All-EDC honors alongside No. 2 points leader Mike Benson (No. 10 in the EDC with 286).
But statistics can be somewhat deceiving if not put into context. For instance, only three underclassmen - Spencer Flaten, Chase Farkas and Austin Nelson - played in at least 20 games. The other seven didn't play more than 17 games apiece. In comparison, every senior played a minimum of 20 games.
So even though the seniors put up the big numbers, who really knows how much talent sat dormant on the bench? That concept should be a beacon of optimism for fans and players, alike.
In the end, West Fargo starts this season minus seven seniors from last year, but will retain four of its top 10 scorers: junior Farkas (174 points), and seniors Nelson (55), Flaten (35) and Dan Hoy (20).
These players, as well as the rest of the veterans, have a tough job to do: setting an example for all the fresh faces.
"There's a lot of teaching going on right now," said boys basketball coach Greg Limke. "You're always looking for the guys who were with you last year to contribute, and also teach the younger guys and show them the ropes.
"You really rely on the veteran players this time of year."
Limke likens this year's team to last year's in that both are starting the season minus several top senior players.
"We have a lot of new faces. It took us a while to come along (last season, too)," he said.
But, the players who are returning will bring with them the experience of being in the State Tournament title game, something that could serve as motivation throughout the season.
"The experience (of playing in the title game), you hope it carries over to the next year and many years over," Limke said. "Hopefully, they soaked it up, enjoyed it and now will prove what they can do."
Long way to the top
As a team, West Fargo was statistically buoyant in the EDC in many categories during the regular season. It never led any group, but consistently ranked third, fourth or fifth in every category except rebound margin (No. 6, 3.2 rebounds), steals (No. 7 with 7.42 per game) and 3-point percentage (No. 8 at 38.31).
That just proves the overall parity in North Dakota boys basketball, as a team that never lead in any statistical categories wound up in the state title game.
And if there are any indications, this season won't be any different.
Limke thinks a couple of EDC teams, in particular, will be tough opponents.
"Grand Forks Red River will be the favorite to start the year," he said. The Roughriders led the East Region in scoring last year (69.92 per game).
The loss of only two seniors won't hurt their offensive power as they still have their top two scorers: Luke Schreiner (516 points, 21.5 points per game) and Tyler Thompson (325 points, 13.5 PPG). Schreiner also was the No. 1 points leader in the EDC.
"Fargo North will be another strong contender," Limke said. "They seem to have the most tools coming back in the EDC."
The Spartans took fifth place in the state tournament last season, beating Williston by 15 points. They lost four seniors, but will retain Nik Savageau, their overall points leader who was No. 3 in the EDC with 437 points and 17.5 PPG.
West Fargo starts its season Friday, Dec. 11, at 7:45 p.m. at home against visiting Bismarck St. Mary's. Though the Packers face a nonconference opponent, the game will give coaches and fans a taste of things to come.
"You learn more about your team after the first game than any other games in the year," Limke said. "We'll use it to find out about the team and make adjustments for EDC games later in the season."
It's all about working hard and having the right outlook, according to Limke.
"We're looking for progress each and every day," he said. "We're looking for the guys to come with a good attitude every day and good things will happen.
"I think, for a lot of new guys, it's their chance to prove what they can do."