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No. 4-seeded West Fargo takes girls soccer title in shootout

The West Fargo girls soccer team celebrates after winning the North Dakota state championship game Saturday in Jamestown. The Packers won in a shootout, defeating Minot 3-2 for the title. Chris Franz / The Forum

No matter how hard they tried, the West Fargo girls soccer team failed to earn state-tournament berths for three straight seasons.

But at the beginning of this season, Packers coach Jon Melendez made a bold prediction: "this is the year."

Last weekend, his prediction came true as West Fargo not only earned a berth to the state tournament, but won its first state title in the history of the program.

"I am pretty happy," Melendez said. "We had three tough opponents."

Hovering on the bubble for most of the year, the Packers were the definition of a long shot come tournament time. Even after clinching a state berth late in the year with a win over Devils Lake, West Fargo wasn't expected to make much of an impact as a No. 4-seed.

The Packers were more than happy to accomplish the unexpected.

West Fargo came into the tournament with a fire, one that was unleashed early against their opening-round opponent: No. 1-seed Bismarck Century.

"We prepared for that game," Melendez said. "After the Devils Lake game, I told the girls, 'congratulations, but it's not over. We have three more games to prepare for.'

"I know I prepared my girls well for (Bismarck Century)."

Senior Tia Lopez sparked West Fargo with the first goal of the game, but it was Andrea Muller who took it from there. The junior forward scored four times and assisted on Lopez's goal. Kelsey Kloos also earned an assist.

Moving on to the semifinals, the Packers had a daunting task awaiting them.

"Fargo South was one of the toughest teams we played," Melendez said.

The Bruins defeated West Fargo 1-0 twice during the regular season. This time, it was the Packers time to shine.

Goalkeeper Melissa Halda made 11 saves, while Muller scored the only goal needed, as the Packers went on to win 1-0 and advance to the championship game.

The title match was somewhat of an anomaly as West Fargo faced off against Minot, which also had made it to the top as a No. 4-seed.

"It was fun playing Minot. ... I couldn't believe they were a fourth seed because they were so strong," Melendez said.

The Packers once again were able to set the pace thanks to Hayley Walsh's goal at the 39th minute of the first half. Minot answered in the second half, however, and the two teams eventually found themselves tied at 2-2.

Through two scoreless overtimes, the teams were forced into a shootout, something the Packers were ready for.

"We practiced shootout going into the state tournament," Melendez said. "I told them to just relax, pick a spot and get it in."

Minot sent one shot wide, while all five of West Fargo's kickers scored to win the title.

Several West Fargo players were honored for their efforts. Lauren Johnson, Kaylee Lothspeich, Kloos, Courntey Voeller, and Muller all were named to the All-Tournament team. Kloos also was named to the All-State first time, while Voeller earned a spot on the All-State second team.

The culmination of a successful year with a state title is what every coach dreams of. For Melendez, it was the end of a journey.

"Our goal was to make it to state," he said. "I know my kids; they wanted to be there and they wanted to bring something home."