Beginning Thursday, East meets West as the North Dakota state wrestling tournament kicks off at the Fargodome.
Though who will be crowned champion won't be determined until Saturday, the two favorites are known: Bismarck and West Fargo. The battle between the current No. 1 team and the defending state champ has potential to be epic, and the numbers are eerily similar.
After a Saturday that saw both regions hold their respective tournaments, the Packers and Demons came out on top with startlingly similar numbers: both finished with 237 points and both crowned at least four individual champions.
Bismarck placed 13 wrestlers at the West Region tournament, and received first-place finishes from Joe Schumacher at 140, Ethan Dockter at 145, Joe Latham at 160, and Nick Nelson at 285.
Likewise, West Fargo made short work of its East Region counterparts on Saturday at Fargo North High School.
"We're ready for State," said Kayle Dangerud, Packers wrestling coach. "It's what we've worked for all year long."
The Packers placed 18 wrestlers at the East Region tournament altogether, and had first-place finishes from Jordan Shearer at 103, Preston Lehmann at 160, Eric Lehmann at 171, Tyler Lehmann at 189, and Scott Schiller at 215.
Other top placers included runner ups Trevor Kringlie at 103, Jordan Johnston at 119, Zach Neer at 152, and a third-place finish from Tommy Kuehn at 125.
"We qualified all our kids, plus a few more," Dangerud said, of his team's East Region Tournament success. "We're using it as a stepping stone for this week."
There even were Packer vs. Packer matchups during the 103-pound championship round between Shearer and Kringlie, and the fifth-place, 112-pound match between Lucas Monson and Kollin Kragnes.
"That says a lot of about our depth," Dangerud said.
Though standouts such as Schiller and the Lehmanns didn't disappoint, Dangerud was impressed by all of his wrestlers.
One, in particular, made impressive strides.
Zach Vetter was moved up to the 285-pound class to start the season. Though he wrestled around 190 pounds all year, he was forced to take on opponent vastly outweighing him.
During the East Region tournament, however, Vetter battled through the ranks to take fifth.
"He beat guys who beat him during the season," Dangerud said. "He did really well."
Now, the Packers have to continue their march toward a title that they began way back in early December. Reaching the State Tournament and vying for a championship has been their goal all along, Dangerud said.
"We've had a great year and have a lot of good thing going for us," he said. "Each week, regardless of how we did, this was our goal."
Odds and ends
Boys hockey: With two wins last week and riding a five-game winning streak, the Packers finished the regular season seeded fourth in the EDC heading into this week's East Region Tournament at the Urban Plains Center. West Fargo finished 8-5-2 in the conference and 13-5-3 overall after defeating Wahpeton-Breckenridge 7-0 last Tuesday, and Fargo Shanley 10-2 last Friday. They face No. 5 Grafton-Park River on Thursday during the opening round of the tournament.
Girls hockey: West Fargo lost its first game of the season to a conference opponent on Saturday, falling 4-3 at Bismarck. The Blizzard (11-5-0, 12-6-1) came out swinging and scored twice before the Packers responded. Kacie Johnson finished with two goals and Kelsey Kloos got the other. Bismarck's winning score came with less than two minutes remaining in the third period on a power play. West Fargo (15-1-0, 15-2-1) started the week with a 2-0 win over Grand Forks. The Packers have two more games before the state tournament Feb. 25-27 at Ralph Englestad Arena in Grand Forks. They faced Fargo South (9-5-0, 10-7-0) on Tuesday, but the results weren't in when this edition of the Pioneer went to press. West Fargo's last game of the season is 7:30 p.m., Thursday at home against Jamestown (6-10-0).
Boys basketball: The Packers split last week, falling 60-54 to Fargo Shanley (7-3, 7-8) but beating Devils Lake (4-6, 5-10) 68-58. They have three games left in the regular season, the first of which was Tuesday against Wahpeton, after this edition of the Pioneer went to press. West Fargo (8-3, 11-5) plays again Feb. 23, against Fargo South (6-5, 6-10) at 7:45 p.m. and their last game of the season is Feb. 25 against Grand Forks Central (1-10, 1-14).
Girls basketball: West Fargo (3-7, 5-10) fell 45-42 to Fargo Shanley (6-5, 8-7) last Tuesday before beating Devils Lake (7-4, 10-6) handily, 73-49. They played Tuesday at Wahpeton, but the results weren't in by press time. The Packers face Grand Forks Central (3-7, 5-10) on Friday at 7:45 p.m.
Boys swimming and diving: The Packers beat Fargo north 110-76 during last Friday's dual. Their final dual is Friday against visiting Jamestown at 5:30 p.m. The East Region tournament is Saturday, Feb. 27 at West Fargo.