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Packers dream season comes to fruition: Wrestlers excel at state tournament

The West Fargo bench erupts as they beat Bismarck in their final match Friday night for the title of the North Dakota state tournament in the Fargodome. Photographer/Michael Vosburg

A season of relentless work, a season of pain, a season of sacrifice.

A season to remember.

The West Fargo wrestling team set out with the goal of usurping 10-time defending dual champion Bismarck in the North Dakota state tournament.

Last weekend, the Packers did just that.

"I'm really happy for our guys," said Kayle Dangerud, West Fargo wrestling coach. "They put their work in and it paid off."

By the end of the three-day tournament at the Fargodome, the Packers had the dual championship and a combined total of 10 individual placers. But try as they might, the Packers couldn't make it a clean sweep. The Demons came out on top in the run for individual team title, winning their third straight with 191 points, only 2.5 points ahead of West Fargo.

Still, West Fargo set out with a goal and accomplished it. They competed at the highest levels of play and finished the season undefeated in duals.

"We were extremely happy for how things went. All the guys were really excited," Dangerud said. "It was something they were prepared for all year, and it was fun."

The Packers defeated Dickinson in the opening duals round, and found themselves facing No. 2 seeded Bismarck Century in the semifinals. West Fargo was ahead 30-19 with five matches to go, but saw their lead slip away as the Patriots won four in a row and took the lead 35-30.

This was it; for the Packers to win, they needed a pin.

It came down to the 160-pound match and West Fargo's No. 1-ranked Preston Lehmann vs. Century's Landon Schmidt. Lehmann got to work right away, but soon found himself under the Patriot.

That's when Lehmann pulled out his secret weapon: "The Twister." In one, wrenching movement, he vaulted himself over the top of Schmidt with a sort of standing back handspring. At 1:17 in the first period, the Packers got their pin and the one-point victory.

"It's kind of his move, one of his best," Dangerud said, of "The Twister."

The title match came down to two top-ranked schools. The Packers faced their biggest competition in Bismarck, the very team they were aiming to topple all season. Much like against Century, the Packers shot out to a comfortable 19-point lead only to watch the Demons march to four straight wins (West Fargo forfeited its 140-pound match). With the dual tied 30-30, it once again came down to the 160-pound bout and Lehmann.

Enter "The Twister." Lehmann got the pin at 4:29 and the Packers got their title.

The crowd erupted as Lehmann pumped his fists in a rage of triumph and his teammates celebrated on the sidelines.

With the dual over, Saturday brought the individual tournament in which West Fargo had six title contenders.

Kicking things off was No. 2-ranked Jordan Shearer, a seventh grader with the Packers who had excelled all year.

"He's been solid since he stepped into the room," Dangerud said. "We didn't have to make many adjustments when he started the season."

Shearer faced off against No. 3-ranked Terry LaVallie of TMCHS. Shearer found himself behind 6-4 going into the third and final period. Both wrestlers were closely matched. Shearer was behind 6-8 as the clock wound down when he found an opening and completed a takedown to tie the score and force overtime.

Then, with one final takedown in the extra period, Shearer defeated his foe and took the first individual title for the Packers.

"That was probably the most exciting high school match I've ever seen," Dangerud said.

Other wrestlers taking individual titles were Eric Lehmann at 171, Tyler Lehmann at 189 and Scott Schiller at 215. Runners-up were Tom Kuehn at 125 and Preston Lehmann at 160. Remaining placers included: Trevor Kringlie, fourth place at 103; Lucas Monson, seventh at 112; Jordan Johnston, sixth at 119; and Ryan Seamands, eighth at 135.

All in all, it was an amazing season, and the seniors - Schiller, Seamands and Tyler Lehmann - went out on a high note.

"We're really going to miss those guys," Dangerud said. "They provided great leadership all year long. We're going to be sad to see those guys go, but at the same time we wish them luck as they move forward."

Schiller won his third straight state title and was named Class A Mr. Wrestler. Tyler Lehmann won his first North Dakota State Tournament title, but had won state titles while wrestling with Apple Valley (Minn.) High School, and is ranked fourth in the nation at 189.

Even though the Packers are losing three of their best, Dangerud is looking forward to next season. They'll return seven state placers and a gob of talent.

"We're really excited about our future," he said.