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West Fargo soccer team off to a solid start

West Fargo's Josh Hanson heads the ball from Grand Forks Central's Alex Nagel last Thursday in West Fargo. David Samson/The Forum

The Packer boys soccer team isn't just one of the youngest teams in recent years, it's also one of the deepest in terms of talent. The team has so much potential this year that coach Doug Millar is even having difficulties deciding on who to play.

It's a problem any coach would love to have.

"It's a challenge to get the kids the minutes they want," said Millar, now in his 11th year in charge of the Packers. "This is probably one of the deepest teams. We're having a hard time determining where we're going to play them and how to get them minutes, because we're that deep."

As of press time, earlier this week it was showing on the scoreboards too. The Packers had yet to lose a game this year in its 1-0-2 start, perhaps a sign of a welcome change from the past few years. West Fargo hasn't qualified for the state tournament since 2005.

The Packers have beaten Bismarck Century and tied Bismarck and Grand Forks Central this year. Results from this week's matches weren't available before press time.

Senior Daniel Hoy and sophomore Jake Kroke have a goal and an assist each on the young season, while junior Austin Dillard has two assists. West Fargo hopes to avoid a scoring drought that has essentially plagued the team most of the last few seasons. The Packers were 5-11-2 overall last season, fifth place in the EDC with a 2-8 league record.

"We're starting to generate more scoring opportunities. We're getting really good looks, it's just a matter of putting the ball in the back of the net. Our net minding and our defense have been pretty solid," said Millar. "It's been a good start, a good confidence builder for the kids."

West Fargo's junior class forms a solid foundation for the team to build around, making up more than half of the starters. Many of the players were on last year's JV team that was one loss from an undefeated conference season.

"Our juniors have played together for probably a good seven years or so. We have a core group that has a lot of chemistry, and we know each other pretty well on the field," said junior forward Jade Johnson. "And we're going to do good this year, a lot better than last year - that's for sure."

Johnson and teammates point to the tie with Grand Forks Central in last week's EDC opener as a sign of the Packers' improvement. The Knights were ranked No. 2.

"It looks pretty good so far, and we know what we're doing," said senior midfielder Ahmed Lafta. "We've been talking a lot the last couple years about how we're going to make state, but we're going to make it this year. We're pretty confident, especially with tying Central."

Millar is still setting his starting lineups and deciding which players will be the Packers' top backups.

Junior goalkeeper Braden Schmid starts his second year in the net for the varsity team. He'll be backed on defense by junior defensive leader Kody Duncan. Other main defenders will be sophomores Paul Lancot and Brandon Beyer and juniors Mark Neugebauer and Josh Hanson.

Inside midfielders will include Johnson, Kroke, Lafta and junior Ransi Thomas. Outside midfielders are led by main stay, three-year starters Hoy and senior Ryne Shaeffer.

"They are both captains and tireless workers," said Millar.

The pair will be backed up by sophomore Zach Grindahl and junior Nick Larson.

At forward the Packers have juniors Austin Dillard, Durham Mani and

Tarley Gaye as well as sophomore Adin Mackovic.

"This is one of the youngest teams I've had in terms of starters, but in terms of talent this year I've got a very good group of sophomores and juniors...It's good for the program," said Millar.

West Fargo plays at Moorhead on Saturday.