Anyone associated with the competitive swimming scene in West Fargo knows that Marsha Dahl is a very goal-oriented coach.
It should come as no surprise that this year her girls swimming team's goal is to win a state championship. Last year's boys team finally broke through and ended Minot's decade-long state title streak. Now it may be time for the Packers to end the Minot girls' state championship streak at six.
"The boys have stood up, and the girls are climbing the ladder," said Dahl. "Last year was the closest we've ever come. We know we have to work hard. We have to keep focused on trying to be the state champs for the first time in girls."
The Packers finished only 44 points behind Minot at last year's state meet, and already this year the team has improved on that. West Fargo took second at the Fargo North Invite on Aug. 29, finishing only 10 points behind Minot. Neither team though had all their swimmers compete in their best events in the invite, the first competition of the year.
"We have a lot of depth and versatility again, which definitely helps," said senior Ashley Kranda. "We have young swimmers and divers that so far have been doing phenomenal. Minot is a really good team, so I guess you can't tell right now who is going to be better."
Graduation turnover wasn't kind to the Packers, who lost six seniors from last year, including four that were point scorers at state. Two of them are college swimmers, last year's state swimmer of the year Ashley Reiter (University of Nebraska) and Megan Nelson (Concordia). It's no easy task to replace experienced swimmers like that.
But the Packers will do their best with the 38 swimmers they have, 24 of which are still in junior high. The team lacks a superstar of Reiter's caliber, but the depth and numbers are there for a good chance at West Fargo's second EDC title in a row and a strong run at the state championship.
"We have a pretty good solid group of kids, no one that really stands out," said Dahl. We have a good senior group and then we have a pretty large sophomore group. That's the nucleus of our team."
Some of those swimmers include seniors Amy Doll, Chelsea Gentzkow and Ashley Kranda, junior Samantha Gunning, sophomores Paige Weisz, Alyssa Olson, Hannah James, Brianna Rortvedt and Rachel Kranda, freshman Krista Windjue and eighth-grader Danica Dutt.
Those established swimmers all scored points at last year's EDC and state meets and are complimented by several others trying to fill spots lost to graduation. Dahl has taken notice of eighth-graders Marisol Rios, Aubrey Wentz and Kenna Jo Sand. Also, senior Madison Anderson, a state qualifier last season, leads a group of six divers.
The Packers are looking good early on in the 200 medley and 400 free relays.
"We have some talents that this year are going to come out and shine," said Gunning. "I think it's going to be an interesting year. If we put our minds to it, we'll be able to catch (Minot)."
Led by likely future Olympian Dagny Knutson, Minot isn't the only team that will give the Packers a run for their money this season. Bismarck Century and Grand Forks Red River have superstar swimmers that will compete with West Fargo in relay events. However, the Packers easily beat both Grand Forks teams in dual action last week. Fargo North and Fargo South are rebuilding this year.
There's still plenty of swimming to do, and perhaps September isn't the time to be talking about a state championship in November. Swimmers will develop. Injuries and illnesses can always be a factor. Right now the Packers are figuring out what works for them.
"We hung with Minot in that first meet, which was good," said Dahl. "But we have some big holes to fill. We're just trying to find the right lineup right now."
The Packers host Detroit Lakes today and dual at Fargo South next Tuesday.