STRONG PACKER PRESENCE
They were hoping for a repeat as champions, but Bismarck wouldn't let it happen.
Despite hindrance from North Dakota's No. 1 team, however, West Fargo still managed to have an epic showing during last week's state wrestling tournament at the FargoDome.
For starters, the Packers placed third in the team duals, beating Fargo South 50-17 in the final bout. Then, West Fargo finished second for the weekend with 192 points, a mere 2.5 points shy of the overall-winning Demons.
And to top it off, the Packers finished with 10 attached state placers, of whom none finished lower than sixth in their respective weight class.
No, West Fargo does not have much to be disappointed about; they finished the season with style.
Dual for supremacy
In the dual portion, No. 2 seeded West Fargo began with a handy 50-21 defeat of Turtle Mountain during Thursday's first round. Six points are tacked on to a team's scoreboard if matches result in a pin, of which Jordan Shearer, Anjelo Shepherd, Lucas Monson, Shelby Schultz, and Preston Lehmann managed for the Packers.
Those pins created a hole that Turtle Mountain could not climb out of.
But in the semifinal bout, West Fargo hit a snag when they faced No. 1 seeded Bismarck.
It seemed as if momentum would swing early in the Packers' favor after Tom Kuehn came up with a big pin at 130 pounds to start the dual. But the Demons quickly shook off the loss, and rolled through six weight classes to jump to a 31-6 lead before West Fargo answered.
That's when Lehmann pounced. The 171-pound sophomore pinned a hapless Drew Kary in 1 minute, 22 seconds to right the Packer ship.
Possibly spurred by his teammate's showing, Drew Johnson's effort at 215 was nothing short of epic. Down 0-2 to Bismarck's Tayln Johnson early in the bout, Drew Johnson clawed back to tie it early in the second period. The West Fargo sophomore then got a takedown for a two-point lead. After some back-and-forth play, the wrestlers found themselves tied at 5-5 and going into overtime.
Soon after, Tayln Johnson got the upper hand and almost pinned his opponent. Drew Johnson was down by a point, when he suddenly racked up two with a fall to take the lead 7-6. He grabbed one more for the clincher and the 8-6 decision.
Even after a few more Packer victories, Bismarck's early lead combined with a pin and major decision were too much to conquer. The Demons prevailed 47-31.
Possibly the biggest disappointment of the tournament was the fact these two teams met in the semifinals instead of the finals. As it was, their respective opponents in the title bouts were not ideal matches, as evident by the lopsided scores on both parts (Bismarck defeated Bismarck Century 45-19).
And while West Fargo missed out on repeating as dual champions, they still had a chance to usurp Bismarck and take the overall title. With each win by a Packer, they inched closer and closer to the Demon's mark.
The single biggest contributor to this was Shearer (41-4). The eighth grader finished with a team-high 28.5 points, epitomized by his successful defense of the 103-pound title (a 9-1 decision victory over Fargo North's Tom Walton).
Second behind Shearer was Lehmann. The sophomore accumulated 27.5 points for West Fargo, and was looking for a bit of redemption after finishing runner-up at 160 pounds during last year's tournament.
Lehmann (36-4) pinned his way to the final bout in the 171-pound bracket, where he faced Williston's Jacob Sargent. Sargent came out with a quick takedown for an early 2-0 lead, but after that it was all Lehmann. The West Fargo sophomore thoroughly controlled the match and took the title with an 11-5 victory.
Another individual title came from Shepherd (17-4). The two-time state champion (103 pounds in 2009 and 112 pounds last year) transferred from Fargo North earlier this season, and entered the state tournament as the No. 3 seed.
In the 125-pound title round, he faced off against No. 1 Paul Michelson of Williston. Shepherd held a 4-0 lead through most of the second period before Michelson started chipping away. The lead eventually disappeared into a 4-4 tie and the clock was closing in on overtime. But in one deft move, Shepherd worked out from Michelson's grasps and was awarded one point for the escape. The result was a close 5-4 victory in Shepherd's favor, increasing his total points to 25 for the Packers.
West Fargo's last individual title came from Trevor Kringlie (34-9) at 112 pounds. The East Region title holder squared off against Bismarck Century's Timmy West, a senior and the No. 1 seed. Kringlie was seeded third, but was ready nonetheless.
Most of the first period consisted of both wrestlers sizing each other up and waiting for the other to show his hand. The match was tied 2-2 at the start of the second period, and remained close through the third. With Kringlie up 5-4 as the clock wound down, he quickly picked up five more points to put it away 10-4.
Kuehn (39-5) wrestled an excellent tournament for the Packers. Though he finished runner-up at 130 pounds, he still accumulated 23 points for his team, which included some key wins in dual competition.
West Fargo's other state placers were: Kollin Kragnes (fifth at 112 pounds, unattached), Weston Dobler (third at 119), Christian Ramberg (seventh at 119, unattached), Jordon Johnston (fifth at 125, unattached), Monson (sixth at 140), Schulz (fifth at 145), Zach Neer (fourth at 152), and Miles Scholl (sixth at 160).
Although the Packers may not have been able to repeat their dual championship from last year, they still proved they are one of the top teams in the state. If anything, the next few years of competition could see them become stronger yet.