After finishing last season in the bottom half of the Eastern Dakota Conference and missing a state tournament berth, the West Fargo girls basketball team is hoping it can bust loose this winter.
How about a taste of some high-caliber, offseason competition to get the ball rolling in the right direction?
The Packers will get a sample Thursday at the Target Center in Minneapolis, as they face Saint Michael-Albertville (Minn.) at 4 p.m. The game precedes a 7 p.m. WNBA game between the Minnesota Lynx and San Antonio Silver Stars.
"Saint Michael-Albertville had a successful season last year, so we will have our hands full," West Fargo girls basketball coach Barb Metcalf said. "But our girls have had a very good showing at area summer team camps, which should make us a worthy opponent for the Knights."
Metcalf said she was contacted about coming down for the matchup by Matt Bare, Senior Community Basketball Executive for the Lynx and Minnesota Timberwolves.
"I was acquainted with him through previous coaching jobs," Metcalf said. "The dates and times just lined up for us" The two had attempted to get a game going in years past, but "it never worked out."
Bare said putting together these youth matches before professional games offers great experience and exposure for the participants. He said West Fargo was an obvious choice because his organization wants to get interest from schools outside of Minnesota.
"We've been trying to expand to other areas because we know how involved the neighboring states are" with professional basketball in Minnesota, Bare said. "We're happy to have the kids from the West Fargo program out here and, hopefully, we can get other schools from that area down here to do the same sort of thing."
Last season, Saint Michael-Albertville went 8-2 in conference play and 21-6 overall en route to a section 8AAAA championship title. The Packers were 6-8 and 9-13, respectively. It could be a tough match, but that's just what Metcalf wanted.
"Barb said she wanted to play a pretty good team," Bare said.
Packer fan interest already has been strong, Metcalf said, with well over 50 tickets being sold for the event. Tickets are just $10 per person and allow the holder to see both the girls basketball game and WNBA game. Tickets are available for purchase at the door, or by contacting Bare at email@example.com or 612-673-8441.
Metcalf said it will be good experience for the Packers to "play against more of that disciplined, Minnesota-type ball club." As far as experience, West Fargo and the Knights should be fairly even.
"They have a nice mixture of underclassmen and upperclassman," Metcalf said.
The third-year coach also likes what she has seen with the Packers this summer, and is optimistic for the upcoming season.
"We've been doing well in our team camps. Our girls are really jelling well," she said. "We continue feeding the program and kids are buying into our system of working hard during the offseason."
And though the chance to get some much-needed competition during the lean summer months "will be a nice propellant for the season," Metcalf said the girls are pretty excited to head to Minneapolis for other reasons, such as seeing some WNBA pros in action.
"We're going to stay overnight the night before and take the light rail to the Target Center," she said. "But that's what they're excited for, to see those big names."
Bare said he hopes these types of games spark participation and growth in basketball, overall.
"We think it helps get them excited for basketball and gains some experience," he said. "Hopefully, it gets other kids interested in the sport, too."