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Experienced soccer squad seeks tournament success

The year 2003 doesnt seem that long ago. Yet, in the two seasons since Jim Flores and his West Fargo girls soccer team made their run to fourth place in that years State Soccer Tournament, his team has won a single game.

Thats one for six.

But Flores squad was two-for-two at last weekends East-West Crossover in Bismarck, shutting out Minot and Bimsarck St. Marys, perennially two of the better teams in the West.

And the Packs one win, a convincing one at that, was over Fargo North at last years tourney. Both teams are looked at as favorites heading into the 2006 campaign.

Theyre solid, but we beat them. We have that confidence. We didnt lose much, and neither did they. Throw Fargo South in the mix, and you have to think that those three teams are the favorites, Flores said.

But Flores is quick to throw in a quid pro quo.

Im hesitant to put us in there. I dont want to jinx us. But if we can stay healthy, and answer a couple of questions on defense, we should be right in there battling for the conference championship.

That would bring in another stat. Zero-for-forever. No Packer team, since the sport was sanctioned by the North Dakota High School Activities Association, has finished the season with an East Region Championship.

Flores needs only to look at his roster for reasons why he thinks this could be the team. It may remind some of that 2003 club that made their way to the medal stand at that years tournament.

West Fargo has a slew of seniors, 14 on the varsity and junior varsity rosters, to be exact. And those seniors, Flores said, have been playing together since they first figured out how to lace up their cleats.

Theyve been together since the first grade. Theyve done summer leagues and traveling teams, and they played together the last three seasons at the high school, most of them at the varsity level. They know what they have to do, Flores said.

Leading the Pack will be scoring machine Nicole Hertel, a senior forward who also spends time in the backfield as a sweeper. This year, however, Flores is hoping he can keep the flexible scorer at the front, where she can convert opportunities.

Also a key up front will be Jill Kussatz, arguably the teams Most Valuable Player last season, when she led the Packers in points. Kussatz is as much of a threat to score on the attack as Hertel, and with both of them up front, defenses wont know who to double up, Flores said.

You cant put four girls back on the two of them, so one of them is going to get some one-on-one opportunities, he said.

Last weekend, that was Hertel, who scored all three goals in the 2-0 and 1-0 wins over the Magi and Saints, respectively.

But if theres any doubt about the Packer offense, look at the state line from the Minot contest. West Fargo peppered Minot with 17 shots, and was fortunate enough to convert on two.

On defense, the Packers could be just as solid, but questions linger with sweeper Tiffany Gjestvang out of the lineup. Still, Flores said, the early injury has given some players to take advantage of the opportunity, and girls are stepping up.

Holly Knutson has been a pleasant surprise back there, Flores said. And weve used Gina Doll, who is a good athlete, in back as well, and shes done well.

Those two join Janell Lammers, an experienced, vocal performer who has started on defense each of the last three seasons.

In the middle of the field, a senior and sophomore will force the issue for West Fargo. Jo Haerter is a solid midfielder on the outside, as is Kayla Huso. Both are seniors. And the Packers welcome back Miranda Utter in the middle, after she missed most of her junior season with injuries.

Shes our quarterback there in the middle, our catalyst, Flores said. She really makes us go.

That was clear last weekend, as she assisted on two of the three Packer goals.

West Fargo will have to battle Kordell Sinding and the Spartans yet again for conference supremacy, another reminder of that 2003 campaign. Fargo South also looks strong, returning a host of players from a team that made a run through state last season.

West Fargo will roll into its home schedule on Thursday against those aforementioned Spartans, as the two teams collide at the West Fargo Soccer Fields on 12th Avenue. Both the varsity and JV games are scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

Tuesday, April 18, the regular season continues with a road game in north Fargo at Johnson Field, when the Packers take on Fargo Shanley. That game will be played under the lights, with the varsity starting at 7 p.m.