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Soccer squad sets for second half

Saturday afternoon in Jamestown, the West Fargo Packer girls soccer team trounced Jamestown 5-2 in more than convincing fashion, taking a 2-0 lead at the half and then pouring it on in the final 40 minutes, running away with their lone win of a two-game weekend.

Fargo Shanley, meanwhile, fell flat against the hometown Jays, falling 4-2 in a game where they never came out of the blocks, as Jamestown staked itself to a 3-1 lead in the first half and never looked back.

Call it salt in the wound.

Despite a 2-0 lead in the opening minutes of last Thursdays game against the Deacons, the Packers succumbed to the Shanley offense in the second half, as West Fargo lost 5-3. It wasnt necessarily a devastating blow to the Packer campaign, but it was one of those losses that drive coaches nuts.

Absolutely, Jim Flores, head coach of the Packer girls squad, said of the games aftermath. Weve let some games get away from us this year, but that was one we should have really had. We missed many opportunities. And we gave them too many chances simply because we werent showing any intensity. That loss has to be a wake-up call.

The Packers had won three of four conference games coming into the match, dumping Devils Lake, Grand Forks Central and Red River by the combined score of 13-0 over the last week and a half. South handed the Packers their only loss in that stretch, a 4-0 win at Johnson Field where the Bruins proved they might be the team to beat in the East Region.

Things didnt get much better on Saturday morning. After being outscored 5-1 against Shanley in that final stretch of the game, West Fargo was dominated by Bismarck Century in the first half, 3-0. But in the final half of that game, things started to turn around, and the Packers played Century, widely considered the team to beat in North Dakota this year after returning many starters from a team that made state last season, to a 1-1 tie.

Add that to a 5-2 blowout of the Jays, and the Packers played three solid halves of soccer to one bad half in Jamestown.

I was happy with the way we responded. Our offense has been terrific. Now, if our defense can catch up to that, and pick up their assignments and follow their schemes better, then you have to feel good about where we could be at the end of the season, Flores said.

The defense hasnt been all bad. After all, it did post those aforementioned shutouts on both Grand Forks squads and Devils Lake. Theyll get a chance to continue that, playing Red River on Tuesday in Grand Forks as this paper goes to press and hosting Devils Lake this Saturday. Sandwiched in between those games is another key match with South, a team the Packers will have to beat in order to move up in the standings.

Wed like to beat them of course, but I think this is a week where we can put some distance between the teams behind us and really secure that state spot. After that, well worry about seeding, Flores said of South. But wed definitely take a win. And we know we can play better against them, especially on our home field.

Flores said what could possibly be happening, for the first time in a long time at West Fargo, is that the defense is relying too heavily on the offense. While Flores is known for building defensive teams, this years squad is strong up front thanks to seniors like Nicole Hertel, Jill Kussatz and Jo Haerter, among others.

You kind of have a tendency to sit back a bit and watch them, Flores said. I do it, too. And then when a counter comes from the other end, youre on your heels a bit. Our girls cant get caught up in that. Offense is fun to watch, but defense is what wins games and gets you success in the state tournament.

In the nets, West Fargo looks ready for a stretch run. Rachel Vigen, Flores back-up, made 16 saves in the match against Century, a strong outing. And Marie Johnson has one state tourney under her belt, experience that will come in handy as she leads the defense down this stretch run.

We have a lot of confidence in both girls. Theyve had some great outings this year, Flores said.

Now 6-4 overall, and with a 3-1 record against the West, the Packers also have one more shot to take on teams from the WDA with the East-West Crossover in Fargo on May 20. That will be a final tune-up before big week at the end of May, which includes a rematch with Shanley on May 25.

It was a quiet bus ride home that night, Flores said. I know were looking forward to another chance. Thats what the second half of the season is about. We get another go-round with everyone.

West Fargo and Fargo South will do battle at the West Fargo High School fields at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Theyll continue the second half of the season with a match on Monday against No. 2 Fargo North. That game will be under the lights at Spartan Field, starting at 7 p.m.