Swimmers highlight a solid winter sports campaign
The West Fargo boys' swimming team's season surprised even its veteran coach. Marsha Dahl said the team was shooting for a possible fourth place in the state tournament, but the Packers did one better and finished in third, beating rival and EDC champion Fargo South by a slim margin.
It was a season of growth for the Packers and very nearly what could be termed a rebuilding year, but many of the newer swimmers on the record-high roster of 33 developed quicker than anticipated. Complemented by such established swimmers as seniors Garett Abraham and Ross Keller and junior Sam Jacobs the Packers reached new heights by showing near-drastic improvement as the season "dragged" on. Dahl had the team wearing weighted drag suits that are designed to catch more water during races. The suits build muscle by slowing swimmers in the water and adding resistance. The coach even had the Packers wear the suits during meets, which purposely kept some swimmers from their top times.
The Packers were back in their regular swim suits by the time the post season rolled around, and the whole plan worked wonders. West Fargo finished second at the EDC meet just prior to the state meet. Abraham, Jacobs, Eric Benson, Zach Cormican and Jared Sykora were named all-conference. Abraham's performance in the state meet earned him all-state honors in both swimming and diving - a very rare feat.
Boys take season title
One game against a dominating opponent from western North Dakota brought an end to the Packer boys' basketball team's state title hopes. But a tough loss to Dickinson in the opening round of the state tournament wasn't enough to keep West Fargo down for long. Two days and two wins later, the Packers were owners of the state tournament fifth place trophy.
West Fargo was a fairly streaky team this season, having won its first three games of the season before losing three of its next four. Then the Packers went on a five-game win streak before losing four of five and ending the season with six wins in eight games, including the playoffs, where the Packers went 4-2.
The Packers went through most of the season with what basically amounted to two-man offense, and they were hampered by their lack of height, which led to the team being regularly out-rebounded.
"I think a lot of the season played out as anticipated," said West Fargo coach Greg Limke. "We struggled rebounding the ball, and that hurt us in some big games. To be the kind of team that plays in championships you have to be a good to great rebounding team. Next year, that's an area I want to see us develop at."
In the end it just wasn't West Fargo's year to go all the way. Next season just may be that year.
This season juniors Tanner Farkas (17.5 points-per-game), Seth Dye (15.3 ppg) and Michael Schnepf (9.6 ppg) led the Packers to a 16-9 record and an EDC regular season championship that came down to the wire. Although some conference teams return talent next season, West Fargo should make the state tournament again next season, thanks to the return of its top four scorers and rebounders. The team said goodbye to seniors Rob Gibson and Garrit Haerter this season, and their leadership will be missed. However, the Packers have enough talent to improve on this season and perhaps keep next year's conference crown race from being as close as it was this season. No other team in the EDC returns as much talent and experience next year as this Packer team.
Aside from the all-conference play of Farkas and Dye, Schnepf will also be back for his senior season. He scored in double figures in the last eight games of the season, six of which were in the playoffs when the pressure was on.
That leaves the Packers with three very capable scorers and several players who were sophomores this year and look to become regular varsity players. Those players include Jason Moch and Mike Benson. Juniors Jon Reznecheck and Nathan Kuik will return at varsity along with Farkas, Dye, Schnepf and Tyler Lund.
Young wrestlers develop
A young wrestling team had A LOT to live up to this season. Last year's squad surprised everyone with a state championship. Then three state champions graduated along with other talented grapplers.
But all was not lost. Without a single senior on the roster, the Packers finished in a three-way tie for seventh place at the state tournament after a fourth place finish at EDC. The team was routinely unable to fill some of the heavier weight classes. The Packers' strength was its more experienced middleweight wrestlers. Those wrestlers included Austin Cassezza at 119 (26-11 for the season), Lex Lunde at 125 (34-15), Cameron Ramberg at 130 (23-11) Anthony Charbonneau at 135 (33-9), Dusty Holmes at 140 (35-13), Tony Owens at 145 (26-21) and Scott Schiller at 152 (32-12).
The young Packers flew out of the gate to begin the season, starting 8-2 in dual competition with wins over eventual state champion Wahpeton (then No. 2 in the state) and No. 4 Grand Forks Red River. The Packers, who peaked at No. 6 in the state poll, nearly pulled off another upset against then-No. 3 Fargo South before the wear and tear of the season and empty weight classes caught up with the team. One valued wrestler moved away from the area and left the Packers unable to regularly fill weight classes at 171 and 189. At 215 and 285, David Vetter and Kyle Dallman finished 10-24 and 0-20 on the season, respectively. Both were freshman, and both gained valuable experience for next season.
Charbonneau was the Packers' top placer at state in second place. Cassezza and Holmes both finished third.
Everyone is back next year, and the Packers have to be one of the state favorites along with wrestling powerhouse Bismarck, which also had no seniors.
"We've talked it over, and I think we can compete with them," said Packer coach Kayle Dangerud after the state meet.
Skaters play numbers game
Having a shortage in hockey players and losing 15 seniors to graduation the year prior didn't keep the Packer skaters from winning eight games and playing competitively against some of the best teams in the state, including Grafton Park River and Grand Forks Red River.
Coach Ross Richards knew what his team was in for during the preseason when he predicted his rather inexperienced team would have a tough go of it at first but continue to improve each week. With a very green defense and playing in a tough conference, the Packers lost four of their first five games before going 6-5 during one stretch. The team lost six of its final seven games, including both EDC tournament games to Grafton and Grand Forks Central, a team the Packers had beaten twice during the season.
West Fargo missed out on the state tournament and ended up with an overall record of 8-15, due partially to a scoring slump that saw the team put three goals in the net total in as many games to end the season.
"It was kind of frustrating just because lately we haven't been scoring a lot," said team captain Alex Olson, a senior who finished fourth on the team with 15 total points.
Junior defenseman Tyler Swanson was the lone Packer to receive post season honors when he was named all-conference and all-state.
"The puck just wasn't going in for us...It's always tough going out like that," said Swanson. "We all wanted to make state this year."
Of the seven graduating players, six are forwards. They include Casey McGarry, who was second on the team with 21 points, and Jake Miller, third with 20 points. In addition to some experienced defensemen, the Packers will be led next season by this year's leading scorer Garrett Smith and goalie Kirby Keller.
Richards said next year's schedule will continue to include stronger opponents in an effort to improve the team's quality of play.
Girls miss out on state
Mary Michael Vance's final campaign of her storied Packer basketball career didn't quite end the way she wanted. The Packers were eliminated by Devils Lake in EDC tournament consolation bracket play and missed out on the state tournament.
But it was certainly a season of growth for the West Fargo girls' basketball team. Only three players this season had any real varsity experience when the season started, and all were seniors. Two of them - Vance and Sara Dell - missed several games to injuries. A varsity starter since the eighth-grade, Vance led the Packers in scoring this season with 15.7 points-per-game and also missed six games due to injury and illness. Dell was a would-be starter at guard for the season, but she sat out the first 13 games of the year with an ankle injury. Senior JoJo Haerter was second in scoring this season.
Junior guard Sadie Doggett said it best at the beginning of the season when comparing this year's team to one the year before that featured Andrea Hummel and all-stater Ali Edwards.
"Last year it was just dribble down and put it in the post and get it up, but this year we'll be more of an outside team - faster, swinging the ball and getting our shots off," said Doggett. "We'll probably progress a lot as the season goes on."
Right she was. The Packers were at one time 2-8 before going on a four-game midseason win streak. The streaking continued with three more losses in a row before three more straight wins.
To put it quite simply, the Packers won the games they should against weaker opponents and lost just about all the games they would be expected to on paper. West Fargo's lone win against a team that ended the season with a winning record came at Devils Lake in an eight-point victory. The February win came after an ugly 38-point home loss to the Firebirds in January and proved to be the highlight of the season. Vance and Haerter each scored 17 points in the win, while junior Jamie Green tied her career-high with 15 points. The win over No. 5 Devils Lake was the Packers' only victory against a state-ranked team.
"That was a big win for us up there," said West Fargo coach Lynette Mund, after the game. "It just shows where we were and where we're at now...That's huge for the girls."
The Packers would win two more games during the season - both against Fargo North, with the second being their only victory of the post season in the second game of the EDC tournament. The Packers, who finished fourth in the EDC during the regular season, lost to fifth-place Grand Forks Red River in their conference tournament opener. West Fargo beat the Spartans before losing to Devils Lake.
The team ended the season with a 10-12 overall record. Vance, Haerter and Dell had played their last games in Packer uniforms.
The Packers will return plenty of experience next season. Doggett ended up finishing third on the team in scoring with 6.9 ppg, including nine games in double figure scoring. She led West Fargo in scoring in their failed bid to qualify for state at the EDC tournament. Junior Whitney Adams will return after leading the Packers in rebounding.
Look for next season's experienced Packers to make the state tournament behind balanced scoring, but they desperately need a viable post player to step up big. That player could be sophomore Alyssa Hummel, who had her moments at varsity this year with four games of double digit scoring.