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Packer runners having breakout season

West Fargo seventh, eighth and ninth-grade girls participate in the Andrew Nelson Metro Classic cross country meet Thursday in Fargo's Lindenwood Park. SSgt. Andrew Nelson, a 2003 Shanley graduate was killed August 29, 2007, while on his third tour of duty in Iraq. At Shanley, he was captain of the cross country team. Dave Wallis/The Forum

The Packer girls cross country team showed last week at the F-M Metro Showcase that its well on track to repeat last season's dominance of the EDC.

West Fargo easily won the Showcase, a meet featuring local teams, by placing six runners in the top 16. It's all the usual suspects that are helping the Packers keep their point total down, but at least one runner is having a breakout season.

Freshman Brooke Grooters was the team's third runner at the showcase, taking seventh place behind her sister, senior Ellie Grooters, who took fourth.

It was Brooke's third top 10 finish in a row, making this year a coming-out party for the third-year Packer runner.

"It's a pleasant surprise, certainly," said Packers coach Joe Bailey. "She's always tried to run with the pack but hasn't until this year, and I think it's her hard work and determination that helps her stick with those girls."

Brooke's emergence gives West Fargo six runners that can consistently break the top 10, even at medium-sized meets like the Showcase.

Defending state champion Alissa Mears, a sophomore, reclaimed her spot on top of the EDC by winning the Showcase and beating Fargo South's Tarin Lachowitzer, who ended Mears' long unbeaten streak the week prior.

The No. 2-ranked Packers will test their ability to dominate the field at Saturday's Valley City Invite that will feature defending state champ and No. 1 Bismarck.

"We need to put it in our heads that we have a chance to get first (and beat Bismarck). Why get second, when we can go for first? We have a lot of good runners, and we only need five," said junior Britny Bucholz. "If someone's having a bad day, there's someone to take over for that person."

The Packer girls aren't the only defending conference champion having another good season. The boys team took second at the Showcase behind Moorhead. The Packer boys have also benefited from a runner's breakout season.

Senior Scott Salter, who used to play soccer, is running cross country full-time this year. Salter practiced with the soccer team last year and usually only concentrated on cross country in competitions. This year he's the kicker for the football team, but he rarely misses anything having to do with cross country.

"He's shown the benefits by running his miles," said Bailey. "Running cross country everyday has helped him improve considerably. You can't get the same sort of workout without being there in practice."

Salter has been the Packers' third runner this season behind seniors Jamison Gehrig and Spencer Uetz, who is recovering nicely from an early season injury.

Uetz is getting back into top form after missing the season's first meet due to a hip problem. He finished nine seconds behind Gehrig in third place at the Showcase.

"We're slowly progressing and improving, so I think we'll be ready by the end of the season," said Uetz. "We're starting to come along."