It's only half way through the North Dakota boys swimming and diving season, but West Fargo coach Marsha Dahl has reason for optimism.
"We've got a good group of kids who are just starting to come into their own. It really helps make the lineup more flexible," she said.
The Packers have quickly worked out the rust since the last season, and are poised to defend another consecutive Eastern Dakota Conference championship, as well as make a run for the state title.
The West Fargo swimmers have lofty goals, Dahl said, namely stacking the state tournament with as many qualifiers as possible and coming home with a proverbial treasure trove of awards. But if that's going to happen, it's up to each swimmer to pull his weight.
"These guys told me that one of their goals was to win all the meets," Dahl said. "I said 'If you want to do that you need to come to your own on that.' ...I'm not going to set up every meet with the first priority to win. It's on their shoulders." Dahl said.
By that, Dahl meant she doesn't necessarily put each swimmer in his strongest event. Instead, it's often necessary to carefully weigh each matchup - especially since participants are limited to how many events they swim in a meet - and base a decision on each swimmer's strengths and weaknesses.
Luckily for Dahl, the Packers are rife with strengths. Even as recent illness has been making its rounds through the lineup, West Fargo still managed to put up solid wins last week.
On Friday, the Packers hosted Grand Forks and soundly defeated the KnightRiders 136-50.
"The kids did a really good job," Dahl said. "Grand Forks has a pretty good-sized team, but they're missing some talent from last year."
That showed in the results. The Packers managed to finish first in every event, including 1-2-3 finishes in the 50 and 500 freestyles and 100 backstroke.
Though a win is a win, a somewhat more accurate measuring stick of West Fargo's power came Saturday at the Fargo South Manley Memorial Invitational. There, the Packers took first place among a field of eight teams. With 465 points, West Fargo edged runner-up Fargo North by more than 30 points.
The Packers got big points from first-place finishes in the 200 medley relay, 400 freestyle relay, and 500 free. In fact, West Fargo had a Top 3 finisher in all but three events.
Dahl said she was "really happy to do how we did," especially since West Fargo was missing some points producers, and specifically Cole Holoien, because of illness.
Holoien, who quickly is becoming one of this year's most welcomed Packer surprises, swam a leg Friday with the winning 400 free relay team. On Saturday, the eighth grader was sidelined, but even so, a team consisting of Ethan Doll, Alan Repak, Nick Huseby, and Adam Smestad finished in 3 minutes, 30.05 seconds to take the win.
"It was probably the most exciting event of the meet," Dahl said. "We were way behind, and gradually caught up. Adam Smestad got right up there, and Daniel Hulbert, who just finished an event, went in there and edged them out. It was really thrilling."
The win was a testament to just how versatile the Packers can be, especially in the relays.
"We lost some big guns last year that were solid in our relays for a few years, so now we need to find some replacements," Dahl said. "We've been giving everyone a shot."
In Saturday's 200 medley relay, Smestad, Hulbert, Doll, and Nich Leopold took the win in 1:46.11. Doll was the Packers' other first-place finisher, topping Bismarck Century's Levi Sether by more than a second in the 500 free with a time of 5:13.45.
West Fargo's next test comes at 5 p.m. Friday, when they host Mandan in a dual. Then, the Packers head north to Grand Forks for the University of North Dakota Invitational on Saturday. The meet is scheduled to begin at 10:45 a.m.
For Dahl, the next few weeks will be a time to work out the kinks until postseason play begins at the end of February. This means her swimmers likely won't have a chance to get too comfortable at one event.
"We've got a well-balanced team, and I still don't know what our final lineups will be," she said. "But what's better for them might not be what's best for the team. ... We're spreading the wealth."