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West Fargo girls golf title hopes cut short at state tournament

West Fargo's Ashley Bixby watches her tee shot Monday during the North Dakota State A girls golf tournament at Bois de Sioux Golf Course in Wahpeton, N.D.

An overabundance of rain, cold and wind washed away any hopes the West Fargo girls golf team would rally during Tuesday's second round and take the North Dakota State Tournament title.

That's because there was no second round.

After a typical wet North Dakota fall day, Monday, Oct. 5, that left Bois de Sioux Golf Course in Wahpeton, N.D., a sloppy mess, the first round would be the only round.

At the end of the day, it was Jamestown's Laura Kraft taking the individual crown with a par 71, becoming the first girls golfer to win back-to-back medalist honors since Fargo Shanley's Jessica Monson in 1997-98. Minot also won its second consecutive team title with a score of 325.

With a team score of 382, the Packers placed seventh; not exactly where girls golf coach Dan Wolf had hoped, but a respectful finish, nonetheless.

"The conditions were not ideal, obviously," Wolf said. "The course was very wet. Several of the girls felt like they could have played better, but considering the conditions, we can't say we're disappointed with how any of them played."

In the East/West Classic earlier this season, the Packers faced roughly the same teams as in the State Tournament and also finished seventh.

"In terms of where we finished, it's about where we thought we'd end up," Wolf said. "Consistently throughout the year, we've been a force in the (Eastern Dakota Conference), but the same three teams that have beaten us all year beat us again, and the same three teams from out west beat us again."

If they would have had another day of play, the Packers still had a tough road ahead. With 15 strokes between them and sixth-place Fargo South, the likeliness of moving up in the ranks was slim.

Looking ahead

Now that their season is over, West Fargo can begin looking toward next year.

"Our first goal we have every year is to qualify for the State Tournament," Wolf said.

But with the loss of two key seniors in Mara Johnson and Samantha Pyle, the Packers will have an uphill battle from the start, as several teams in the EDC return largely intact. For example, perennial power Fargo Shanley only loses senior Caroline Crary, who is ranked 9th in the East Region. The Deacons will be returning the core of their players, including Liz Strom and Sarah Storandt, No. 1 and 2 in the EDC, respectively. Johnson, ranked 15th in the EDC, and Pyle "were our No. 2 and 3 stroke averages this year. When you lose people at the top of the lineup, it makes it difficult to overcome," Wolf said. "We have to hope that people with varsity experience will step into those spots."

The Packers have several players capable of filling the voids left by Johnson and Pyle. Six girls lettered in varsity for the first time this year, meaning returners with experience could help bolster the team. West Fargo again will have two seniors next season if Kaitlyn Jacobsen and Chelsey Buth return, but sitting in the wings are four capable sophomores who could help strengthen the program.

Of course, gaining a few girls wouldn't hurt either. "We want to continue to attract numbers of girls to play," Wolf said. "There is always strength in numbers. It makes everyone work a little harder and try a littler harder if they know their spot on the team isn't necessarily secure."

A player who really turned some heads this season was Ashley Bixby. Ranked 10th in the East Region after averaging 92.4 strokes, the eighth grader could become a leader for the Packers and possibly one of the top golfers in the state. She shot a 92 at the state tournament, matching teammate Mara Johnson.

"I think it's very much a rarity when you have an eighth grader who is All Conference and part of the All Region Team," Wolf said. "In terms of competition and playing these tournaments, she was a little inexperienced. But we're very pleased with how she did come out and play, knowing she has such a strong desire for the game and such a high expectation of herself."

In the end, a major factor for next year's season will be garnering confidence in the girls. The Packers had their best game of the year in September at Village Green Golf Course, where they finished with a score of 359.

"We felt very confident and felt good about where we were. But then we slipped the next couple meets and seemed to take a step or two backward," Wolf said. "It's hard to catch lightning in a bottle at this time of year."