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Girls' swim team reloads for fall season

Marsha Dahl's team was a squad of "overachievers" in the regular season last year, knocking off Fargo North en route to an unbeaten record in dual action. Though their luck ran out at the Eastern Dakota Conference meet, where North ran away with the conference title, the Packers were pleased with a runner-up finish.

The team also finished fourth at state to become the school's first girls' swim squad to bring home hardware from a state meet.

While that brought a smile to Dahl's face last year, this year might be a different story. The Packers simply reload for the 2006 season with a boatload of talent in the pool this fall.

The Packers return a pair of state champions, a handful of all-conference selections and three all-state swimmers on a roster that has just one glaring hole with the departure of senior Tracy Olson.

Leading the way, of course, is senior Kelsey Schoonhoven. In 2001, the middle-schooler was named the team's Rookie of the Year. Five seasons later, she's a multiple-time state champion in the backstroke and widely considered the best female swimmer in the state this season. Success this senior year would be another state title, and perhaps a team championship at the regional.

"She's also got her eye on that freestyle championship," Dahl said. "She's been close, but she hasn't been able to get her hands on that one lately. So she wants that and she wants to break her own (state) record in the back, so she's looking to have another outstanding season. She's so tough mentally that she can maybe get it all done."

Supporting her is sophomore Ashley Retier, who broke through for a state championship as just a freshman last year in the 100-yard breaststroke. This year, Reiter, who is a vocal leader in the pool (where Schoonhoven tends to lead more by example) is more experienced, and the expectations are even higher. Dahl thinks she can deliver.

In the deep end of the pool, Emily Baasch made the all-conference team last season by bringing home the bronze in diving, and returns to the team this season with a shot at a regional title.

At the top of the roster, Christina Hawley, Aly Holland and Lindsay Wangler join Schoonhoven in representing the senior class. All are utility swimmers that Dahl can shuffle around as she tries to find the appropriate line up during the early part of the season.

"They're working with Kelsey, and together they're kind of keeping that tradition of senior leadership," Dahl said. "They really work well together. Kelsey's such a competitor. And the other three are very good at being leaders. Then you throw in a girl like Ashley, who is very passionate about her swimming and very passionate about her team and not afraid to be heard, and this group has a lot of leadership."

Some strong swimmers are in the freshman, sophomore and junior classes. Megan Brennan, a junior, was a big part of the foursome that took the state title and a runner-up spot in two relay events, a key to the Packers earning fourth place at state last season. Another part of those teams was Gina Doll, now a junior, who will be asked to pick up where she left off on the medley relay.

Giving the team depth are swimmers like sophomore Megan Nelson, a sprinter who backs up Schoonhoven and gives her teammate all she can handle in timed practices. Samantha Gunning, an eighth-grader, was the team's Rookie of the Year last year, and is emerging as a strong part of the squad.

Hali Scholl is another strong soph who will battle for a relay spot, and she will also challenge in the sprints. Katie Freitheim is a distance swimmer that Dahl has looked to for good things this year.

In the freshmen group, Chelsea Gentzkow is a sprinter who is looking good, and could be Schoonhoven's heir apparent in the backstroke. Amy Doll is looking to pick up where Tracy Olson left off last year, serving as a utility swimmer. And Meghan Schreier is a distance swimmer that has looked good in the 500.

In all, the depth means more girls will be pitted against each other in some inter-squad competition.

"We aren't sure who is going to step up and fill out that relay position on the 4x100, and that's a pretty coveted spot," Dahl said. "So there's a lot of girls who are gunning for that. There actually could be a couple spots open if someone really rises up and challenges Megan. You never know."

The Packers were finally able to dive into their own pool last Monday, as renovation work was completed in the pool basin on a portion of the tile that buckled. Work is still being done in some of the locker areas and the main lobby of the pool, but fans at the meets won't notice much of that work.

The season, however, won't wait, as West Fargo travels to Grand Forks Central on Thursday afternoon for a meat with Red River/Central to open the season. It's a key match-up between two teams expected to contend for the East Region crown this year.

"I don't know who it will be," Dahl said of the potential EDC champion. "We do it as well as anybody, don't we? It's pretty wide open. North is going through some coaching changes but will have good numbers. Grand Forks keeps improving and they're always tough. South is young but getting better and has really good divers. We're going to be right there, but it's pretty open this season."

The Packers, who finally earned a trophy at the State A Meet last season, will look to do so again this season, against some really tough competition from the West. Williston and Minot will battle for the conference crown out there, with always-tough Mandan right on their tails.

But one thing is clear, the Packers will have the talents of one of the top swimmers in the state on their side, as she completes a stellar career.

"I've been blessed to have her," Dahl said of Schoonhoven. "She's one that doesn't come along very often. I'm lucky to have coached someone like that. And I've had a couple of them, so I'm very blessed."

The Pack's first home meet will be on Thursday, Sept. 7, when they host Detroit Lakes in a nonconference meet at Berger Pool. That dual will begin at 5:30 p.m.