Season in Review: Girls Soccer
They came out of nowhere: a No. 4-seeded East Region team taking the state girls soccer title right out from under the feet of some of the best North Dakota had to offer.
It was an epic ending to West Fargo's whirlwind season, and one that coach Jon Melendez had dreamed of for some time.
"When I took this project ... I thought it was going to be a four-year process," he said. "Our goal was to make it to state."
That goal came to fruition - and then some - this season.
For four years, Melendez and the other West Fargo coaches have molded a group of girls from potentials to contenders. Though they immediately struggled to find their stride, especially against the beefy conference rivals in the Eastern Dakota Conference, the Packers pulled out all the stops when it counted most.
"We were always trying to get there, but were short by one point, two points, three points," Melendez said. "I know my kids, they wanted to be (at state) and they wanted to bring something home."
The Packers finished fourth in the Eastern Dakota Conference during the regular season after going 6-4-2 in conference play, and 10-4-6 overall. It was an improvement from the previous two years, when they went 4-6-2 in 2009 and 4-7-1 in 2008.
This season was a steady, clawing improvement. West Fargo started out by dropping its first two games. (The latter one against Shanley would come into play later on). After tying their next two, the Packers finally picked up their first win, a 4-0 thumping over Grand Forks Central. West Fargo then lost a close 1-0 match to Fargo North on April 22, before going on a roll. They didn't lose another game until May 18.
The 1-0 loss to Fargo South was close to the end of the regular season. With just three games remaining, and scant points between Grand Forks Red River for the critical No. 4 spot, Melendez knew the Packers needed to forget the outcome going into their finale. Especially considering they would be facing an old rival whom they had lost to earlier in the season: the Deacons.
In the end, West Fargo outlasted Shanley to win 2-1, and begin a winning streak that would carry all the way to a state title.
"Beating Shanley was the key for the momentum for us, because the last time we beat them was four years ago, or something," Melendez said. "After that, I think the girls said, 'Hey, we can play against anybody.' They were motivated and eager."
That motivation translated to one of the biggest upsets of the state tournament, as No. 4 West Fargo unloaded on No. 1 Bismarck to win their opening round game 5-1.
From there, it was a grind session. West Fargo faced the Bruins in another close match, resulting in a 1-0 victory, before facing No. 4 Minot for the championship. As with the rest of the tournament, it was close and after leading to a 2-2 tie, forced overtime and eventually a shootout.
All five Packers made their shots, and one Minot player missed hers. West Fargo got the win and the title.
Four years ago, Melendez got a group of freshmen he saw potential in. When in their senior season, that same group capitalized on a long career to go out in style.
"The group of seniors, I have to say they worked hard," Melendez said.
For their efforts, Kelsey Kloos, Tia Lopez, Courtney Voeller and Andrea Muller earned All-Conference honors. Kloos also was named to the All-State first team, while Voeller made All-State second team.
Seniors who graduated include Kloos, Voeller, Lopez, Alyssa Lind, Amy Doll and Kayla Miller.
With their exit, Melendez will be hoping for the underclassmen to fill step up and fill their shoes.
"It was great for that group of girls. I've known those girls for a long time and to see them end their career with a state title, that's the best thing," Melendez said. "We knew back in the day, because they were so talented, that they were going to state."