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The dynasty continues: Packers' ranks full of top-tier aquatic talent

West Fargo's Eric Benson touches the finish line after winning the 50 yard freestyle during a dual last December against Grand Forks. Benson was one of the Packers top swimmers. David Samson/West Fargo Pioneer

Is there something in the water in West Fargo?

One might think so by looking at the track record of the Packers boys swimming and diving team. For example, here is a list of some of their recent achievements, in no particular order:

• Back-to-back Eastern Dakota Conference championships (2007-08, 2008-09).

• A team State Championship (2008-09).

• Ten All-EDC swimmers (2008-09).

• At least four All-EDC swimmers every season since 1996-97.

• Ten first-team All-State swimmers (2008-09).

• Six state individual titles in the past two seasons.

• And a partridge in a pear tree.

OK, that last one was a joke, but get the picture? One word comes to mind when considering West Fargo's continued success: dynasty.

That may be a bit presumptive, but the Packers continue to be successful year-in and year-out, regardless of the changing of the guard from the previous year.

For instance, this season West Fargo will be without two powerful swimmers: Eric Benson and Zach Cormican. Both were on the record-breaking State Champion 200 medley relay team, both earned All-EDC honors three years in a row, and both were named to the All-State first team last season.

But losing two top swimmers does not collapse West Fargo's ranks. In fact, it barely dents the talent that still resides within L.E. Berger Pool.

The secret to West Fargo's success is in its depth.

"We really have a good nucleus and good balance on our team," said Marsha Dahl, West Fargo boys swimming and diving coach.

The up-and-comers

The Packers also have an uncanny knack at replenishing their ranks every season.

"The boys have been lucky through the years. We haven't had a lot of seniors graduate; only two or three or four at a time," Dahl said. "Then we have young kids coming up to replace them; coming up with experience."

This year is no different.

"We have 12 brand new seventh graders with swimming experience," Dahl said. "They all come from the West Fargo Flyers swimming club. So we are looking at 12 swimmers, possibly more, who will be here for the next six years."

And if any of those fresh swimmers turn into phenoms during the first few seasons, that potentially means several more years of West Fargo domination.

Impossible you say? It happened last year when Ethan Doll - who joined the West Fargo varsity swimming team as a seventh grader - was in eighth grade. By the end of the season, he managed to win the state title in the 500 freestyle. He also was ranked 8th in the state in the 200 individual medley, right in between junior teammates Austin Keller (7th) and Jared Sykora (9th).

"Ethan Doll and Alan Repak were in that 500 freestyle together," Dahl said. "They battled each other for first and second place. That was something that was a surprise for us. For an eighth grader to be a champion and to have Repak not that far back; that was awesome."

But Doll's experience isn't unique. Two freshmen, Repak and Adam Smestad, excelled throughout last season. Repak was ranked sixth in the state in the 200 freestyle and third in the 500 free. Smestad was ninth in the 200 free and seventh in the 100 backstroke. And with a fresh squad of swimmers, there's no telling who will be the next star.

Besides Repak and Smestad, another sophomore to keep an eye on is Nick Huseby, who put up a top-25 time in the 100 backstroke last season.

The old guard

Hopefully these new swimmers take heed to the many veterans currently with the Packers.

"We have five seniors this season, and three out of the five were place winners and two were second (at the state tournament)," Dahl said. "We've also got nine juniors and four of them scored points for us at state."

In fact, there is talent strewn through every level. Top seniors this year include Keller, Sykora and Jacob Weible. Weible won the 100 backstroke in the State Tournament last season, was ranked third in the state in the 100 free at 47.85, and also raced in the winning 200 medley relay team with Keller. All three were named to the first-team All State.

Top juniors to watch are Jeffery Keller, Daniel Hulbert, Nicholas Leopold and Branden Smith. Hulbert was runner-up in the 200 freestyle at state and both he and Jeffery Keller were ranked in the top 15 in the state in the 100 breaststroke.

"Hulbert and Leopold had awesome state meets," Dahl said. "Daniel was out-touched and just shy of being a state champion."

The competition

Even with a team full of talent, both old and new, Dahl said the Packers still have to keep an eye on the opposition. One team, in particular, that could give West Fargo a run for its money is Fargo South.

"Fargo South had a boatload of sprinters last year that took everyone to town," Dahl said. "They were unstoppable. Not often do you have a group of kids all on one team that can swim that fast.

"South lost some key swimmers to graduation, but they'll continue to have a strong team. They have kids who swim year-round, so they'll be tough."

Dahl also pointed out some other schools that could put up a fight.

"(Fargo) North is kind of rebuilding and Grand Forks is small, but they have a lot of pretty good swimmers. Minot is usually pretty tough. (Bismarck) Century has been tough.

"Besides us (winning) last year (at the State Tournament), second, third, fourth and fifth place were pretty close."

That means there could be even more parity between schools this season.

But even after crunching the numbers and comparing teams, the real test won't start until the season does. The Packers get their first taste of the competition Dec. 12, at the West Fargo Quadrangular.

"We're excited and the boys are excited," Dahl said. "But anything can change; nothing is a guarantee."