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Softball team still on track despite losses

It may not be normal for some fans to see the Packer softball team sporting a .500 record, given that the same program has won 10 consecutive state championships. But West Fargo's 5-5 record at press time isn't entirely unheard of.

Last year's state title team actually started 1-4 before winning 16 of their last 18 games on their way to the championship.

The Packers had a losing record last week after getting beat by last season's archrival Fargo North - that is until the Packers beat Fargo South two days later to break even on the year.

The good news for Packer fans is that the season is young, and coach Pat Johnson has a knack for shaping inexperienced teams into state champions. Despite the mediocre record, things are well at hand with the team.

"I think we're a little nervous out there," said Johnson. "They're not quite where we need to be yet. We're progressing as we go. We had a great chance against North to win. We out-hit them, but we had a few too many mental mistakes."

It doesn't appear anyone on the team is overly worried at this point, but they are concerned. The Packers featured a mostly rookie roster last year and still won state, while this season they have a solid nucleus of returning talent, including junior pitching ace Andrea Sluke, 2-3 on the year. Sluke said she hasn't performed her best and has walked too many batters at times this season.

"We started out kind of slow," said Sluke. "We're making some silly errors, but our last couple of games we have just really improved. We're starting to look like the team that we should look like."

Freshman outfielder Kacie Johnson and junior right fielder Lindsey Levin are both hitting over .500, while junior second baseman Brea Gregory and junior shortstop Aryelle Jones are both hitting in the high .300s, according to Pat Johnson. Freshman first baseman Danielle Nelson is also hitting over .300.

Players are getting on base, the coach said. It's just that when they get there, they're not all doing the things they should. There have been missed opportunities to take an extra base, he said, as well as mental errors in the field.

"This year isn't as much of a struggle (early in the year) as it was last year," said Jones. "We have more returning players from last year than we did the previous year. I think our biggest problem right now is base running."

Despite the recent spring snowstorm, West Fargo hopes to get out on the field and make a run for No. 11. With plenty of snow on the ground as of Monday, the team's schedule this week is anyone's guess; the Packers were scheduled to host Fargo Shanley today at press time.

A near-perfect day

It's the relay teams - specifically the long distance ones - that are impressing Packer track and field coach Darin McKinnon the most this season.

The boys' and girls' 4x800 relay teams are well ahead of pace this early in the spring.

"We were really surprised and happy as coaches to see the times they are running in April, because that's not something you see every year," said McKinnon.

The boys' 4x800 team of sophomores Jamison Gehrig and Spencer Uetz and seniors Lane Nelson and Travis Stadum ran an 8:13 two weeks ago at the Moorhead Invite, easily good enough to qualify for the state meet.

The girls' 4x800 team of senior Cassandra Sayler, junior Ashley Reiter, freshman Britny Bucholz and eighth-grader Alyssa Mears also performed above expectations.

The Packers performed so well at the Moorhead Invite on April 18, that McKinnon said he can't recall a regular season outdoor meet in a decade as the West Fargo coach where his team looked so solid.

"The weather was perfect that day, which makes everything more important because of how the weather is now," he said. "Fortunately, we had that good day."

Mears broke her own school record in winning the 3200 at the meet, while Bucholz qualified for state in the 3200 and seventh-grader Christine Baltezore just missed qualifying for the event by only seven seconds. Meanwhile, Gehrig qualified in the 3200 for the boys' team.

The boys' 4x100 qualified for state, as did the boys' and girls' 4x400 relay teams.

The Packers had planned on sending split squads to track meets early this week at Fargo Shanley and at Wahpeton. At press time the Packer Relays were scheduled for tomorrow at West Fargo High.

Stavenger takes title

Senior Casey Stavenger won the West Fargo Invite at Moorhead's Village Green golf course, shooting a 72 to take his first career title. The Packers took fifth in the nine-team meet, the second tourney of the season.

Stavenger's individual win is thought to be the Packers' first since 2003.

"It was really exciting, because I haven't been golfing good all year," said Stavenger. "When everything finally came together, it was good to get a win."

West Fargo sophomore John Sund finished seventh at the Fargo South Invite at Rose Creek, held April 21, with a 76. The Packers took seventh as a team.

Tennis team 2-0

The Packer girls' tennis team improved to 2-0 on the year with an 8-1 home victory over Valley City. The win comes on the heels of the Packers' season-opening 9-0 win over Grand Forks Central.

West Fargo shares first place in the EDC with Fargo North and six-time defending state champion Grand Forks Red River.

Senior Merema Ahmed, No. 4 singles against the Hi-Liners, and eighth-grader Sarina Olson, No. 5 in the opener, switched spots against the Knights. Both are 2-0 in singles competition this season.

Baseball still winless

The West Fargo baseball team remained winless and in last place in the EDC after losing both ends of a doubleheader on April 22 against Fargo North, 3-1 and 3-0. The Packers are 0-4 in the EDC and 2-8 overall with both wins over Minnesota teams.

"We need two things to happen," said senior outfielder Anthony Charbonneau. "We need fewer errors, and, two, we need to put the ball in play when we have runners on base. We have a problem with that."

Last Saturday's home game against Grand Forks Red River was postponed due to inclement weather.

Senior outfielder Peter Weber and senior third baseman Phil Jahnke, both varsity rookies, are among the conference's top 10 in batting average, hitting .429 and .375, respectively, as of last weekend.

Packer of the Week

...goes to Stavenger for capturing the individual title at the West Fargo Invite - he's thought to be the Packers' first boys' golf tournament champion in at least five years.