Winter sports highlighted by wrestling championship
The brand new signs clamped on to the existing Welcome to West Fargo signs organized by the West Fargo Chamber of Commerce will need some new work, as the West Fargo Packatahnas and the West Fargo High School wrestling squad added a pair of state championship teams ready to be added to the list.
While the Packatahnas success, winning two state championships at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, is precedent, the wrestling title is the first in school history, and comes after a tumultuous off-season for a program thats been at the top of its game for a while.
It shows what happens when people handle adversity the right way, first-year coach Kayle Dangerud said of his teams perseverance and dream season. A lot of things had to come together just right for this to happen. A lot of hard work went into it, too.
West Fargo was selected as the No. 1 team in the state early by coaches around North Dakota, but it seemed like a stretch. Even Dangerud and his legion of wrestlers downplayed the ranking, knowing the troubles the team was having early.
Until Bismarck loses, theyre No. 1, senior Chris Lundberg said.
But the Packers had a lineup of seniors, including Lundberg, a returning state champion, that carried them to great things, including an Eastern Dakota Conference meet championship after a regular season beset by injuries and disappointment.
We had to have everyone step up, Lane Lunde, a senior at 160 pounds, said. Without everyone coming up big at the right time, it would have been tough. There were a lot of good teams in this region this year.
That was evident at the State A Tournament, where Fargo North, Fargo South, Wahpeton and West Fargo tried to challenge Bismarck, which was seeking its fourth-straight team title.
But the East Region had gone 3-for-41, as the West has dominated North Dakota wrestling for years.
It came down to the final day.
Separated by a point, Bismarck and West Fargo emerged as the teams to beat on championship Saturday. By the end of the third-place matches, the Packers were in great shape, thanks to Lunde, who had battled back from a disappointing loss in the semis to earn third place, and Mike Manske, who was robbed in his quarterfinal match at the last second.
Manske, motivated by his father and that tough loss, pinned his way to third. Each point, and he earned an extra half-point for his team with each pin, was crucial.
It hurts because you know you should be wrestling for an individual title, but no one thought wed be in this position (to win a team title), Manske said.
Then, three seniors brought it home.
Nate Lynnes pinned his way to gold at 152 pounds. His brother, Adam Lynnes, who lost in the finals last year, took home first with a win at 171 pounds. And at 189 pounds, Lundberg became the first repeat winner for the Packers in more than a decade, winning his second state championship in as many years.
More importantly, the Packers moved past Bismarck in the team standings, finishing 9.5 points ahead of the Demons.
Its the way you dream your senior season to end, Adam Lynnes said. A team title and an individual title? You cant ask for more than that.
West Fargo skated out to a solid start, winning six of seven. They struggled through a rough finish, losing three of four. In the end, the team was in the same place it finished last year, a game short of state, but with a bit of a silver lining, winning 12 games and finishing above .500 for the first time since 2003.
Its a good group, Ross Richards said of the club. They work hard and do pretty much everything we ask of them.
That group posted some new firsts, sweeping Grand Forks Central in three match-ups this season. They also earned the No. 4 seed, thanks to a split with Fargo North.
But it was the Spartans that threw the wrench into a season that could have been even more successful, upsetting Grafton/Park River in overtime to give the Packers a tough task in trying to get to the state tournament.
As a result, it was Central, who wound up third in the state, extending their season, while Grafton, South and Red River also advanced.
Thats always the hard part about playing in this region, Richards said. Youve got some quality teams battling for just four spots.
In the end, it was those four that each advanced to the winners bracket at state, making it nine out of the last 10 seasons (at least) that all four East Region clubs placed first through fourth at state.
After back-to-back championships, senior Erin Johnson and five other Packers helped Fargo North-West Fargo to a silver finish, as the Spartans fell in a three-overtime thriller to Bismarck High in the finals.
The ending was bittersweet for Johnson, who, during the course of the year, played two games on the Packer ice at Veterans Memorial Arena, an experience she said shed never forget.
I remember watching games here, she said, and you hope you get to play here when youre older. Im glad I got the chance.
The Spartans cruised to another East Region title, finishing with 14 points in the standings and holding the tie-breaker over rival Fargo South thanks to a better overall record.
Fellow Packers Cassie Beckerleg, Mandy Rudlang, Mandy Olson, and Katie Peterson also got their chance to skate in front of the home crowd and to a silver finish at state, as did Johnsons younger sister, Kacie.
In a season where no one outside of the Packer basketball program itself knew what to expect, a savvy parent summed up the early part of the boys season with an observation.
You know, she said, were taking it one win at a time.
Little did she know, the Packers would win seven in a row to start the season.
We felt we had the ability to play with anyone in the state, Greg Limke, head coach of the Packers, said. That didnt mean we thought wed win all seven games at that point, but we thought we would have a chance to win those games.
West Fargo rode a mix of seniors, one junior, and a sophomore to the third spot at the Eastern Dakota Conference Tournament in Grand Forks. They would go on to finish second, falling to eventual state champion Fargo North.
The Packers went two-and-out at the State A Tournament, happy to be back in the tourney after a year away.
I think it shows that last year was really a fluke thing, and that this is a program that can get to state year in and year out, Limke said. This group worked really hard. I think a lot of people didnt know what to expect, but we knew we had a team that could do some good things. Maybe theyve overachieved a bit, but they worked hard to do that.
West Fargo wrapped up the year 16-8, losing three in a row to end the season, but with every reason to hold its head high.
Its just been great to play with this team, Taylor Moch, senior, said after the Packers earned their way to state with an upset of Fargo South. Weve come a long way.
A consolation title was in store for the Packers in the postseason, after the team captured the first regular season conference crown for West Fargo girls basketball in seven years.
The Packer girls, who lost to Fargo South in the Eastern Dakota Conference Tournament title game, made its third straight trip to the State A Tournament in four years under coach Lynette Mund. It was their second time traveling through the Alerus Center en route to the big dance.
Weve made some good memories there, Mund said.
But the biggest memory of the season might have been a nightmarish loss to Bismarck High in the opening round of the tournament. The Demons, who trailed in both overtimes after being stunned in the fourth quarter when senior Ali Edwards drained a dramatic 3-pointer to send the game to extra time, were saved by Ivy Gilbertson at the final horn, and Gilbertson hit a free-throw to ice the contest.
Ive never been a part of anything like that, Mund, who was part of NDSUs history-making perfect team, said. That one is going to hurt. But we need to get past it somehow.
The Packers did, knocking off Grand Forks Central and Minot High en route to fifth place, its best finish at State since winning it all in 1998.
Edwards was part of the all-state squad, as was forward Andrea Hummel. Junior Mary-Michael Vance was a member of the all-conference club, while Mund was named EDC Coach of the Year.
West Fargo followed up an impressive season with an unprecedented second straight national title, competing for the second straight year at the Universal Dance Association national championships at Walt Disney World and bringing home another High Kick national championship.
The Packatahnas, fresh off two state titles in the Kick and Jazz divisions two weeks prior in Grand Forks, were in second place after preliminary rounds, competing against 27 teams at the event. Seminole High School of Sanford, Fla., took the top spot, as they did heading into the finals in 2005.
But, much like last year, the Packatahnas saved their best for the final day and walked away with their second consecutive national title.
Its unbelievable, Gretchen Stafslien, second year head coach of the squad, said from Florida. I didnt think it could be better than last year, but it is even more fun the second time around.
Seniors Greg Gentzkow and Dylan Nitzkorski both finished their Packer careers as EDC Individual Champions. Nitzkorski got over the top with a win in the 50-meter freestyle, his main event on the season. His time of 22.20 seconds was more than a second faster than anyone else in the race.
He repeated the feat in the 100-meter free, where he was the only swimmer to crack the 50-second mark.
Gentzkow made his way atop the podium with a phenomenal swim in the 100-meter butterfly. He slipped away in the final stretch, winning a race where the top three swimmers were separated by less than a quarter of a second.
Those two guys all season long have been our leaders in and out of the pool, Dahl said. They both swim with a lot of emotion. Theyre both very vocal. But when it comes down to it they know when to get to work and get the job done. Dylans a guy that will work really hard and performs very well at what he does. Greg, all year, has been a guy that will just step up and do whatever it is we ask of him, and that helped out this weekend.
Nitzkorski also ended his drought at State, earning his first individual championship in the 50 sprint.
Diver Garret Abraham, a junior, also got into the act, winning the EDC Championship in the deep end of the pool with a combined score of 358.15, more than eight points ahead of the next diver. It was Abrahams first win in major competition.