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Season Preview: Boys Soccer

Ahmed Lafta, left, of the alumni team, and Brandon Beyer of the West Fargo High School varsity soccer team collide during the Sixth Annual Alumni Scrimmage last Friday in West Fargo. Dave Wallis/The Forum

It has been said that you can't have a good offense without a good defense.

If that's the case, the West Fargo boys soccer team should be well covered this season.

The Packers are returning the bulk of their defensive core, meaning a huge piece of the puzzle is in place. The only thing left to do is get the team firing on all cylinders by the season opener: the East-West Crossover on Saturday, Aug. 21, in Jamestown. West Fargo kicks things off at 9 a.m. against Bismarck.

Though the Packers can't win a game without finding the back of an opponent's net, in a low-scoring sport like soccer, keeping the ball out of their own net is even more important.

"The strength in this year's varsity will be our defense," Packers coach Doug Millar said.

West Fargo arguably returns after one of its best seasons, in which it finished third in the Eastern Dakota Conference with an 11-6-4 record en route to a fifth-place finish at state. This was a vast improvement from the 2008-09 season, in which the Packers missed a state berth for the fifth year in a row, and were second-to-last in the EDC at 5-11-2 overall.

The key to last season was getting a quick jump out of the starting gate. After tying their season opener Aug. 22 against Bismarck, the Packers went on a roll, losing just once in 12 games. When the second half hit, however, West Fargo began to misfire. It was up and down until the end, when the Packers pulled out all the stops to take 2-of-3 at the state tournament for fifth place.

Top returners

Though the Packers took hits from the loss of seniors Bryne Schaeffer (All-EDC and All-State first team) and Daniel Hoy (All-EDC, All-State second team), there is enough talent remaining to continue where last year ended.

Leading West Fargo's guard is senior keeper and captain Braden Schmid. As the team's last stand against an attack, the Packers count on Schmid to use all of his skills to keep the ball out of the net. And with plenty of varsity experience - the senior had five shutouts last season en route to an All-Conference honor - he isn't short on those qualities.

In front of Schmid are a defensive quad of Josh Hanson, Brandon Beyer, Paul Lanctot and Kody Duncan. Senior Duncan earned All-Conference honors and was named to the State All-Tournament team last season. He also will serve as one of West Fargo's captains.

Another Packer to watch aggravate the opposing offense is senior Justin Conrad, who "is very valuable to our defense as either an outside defender or a center back," Millar said.

As for West Fargo's artillery, the ammunition caches are stocked.

Senior Austin Dillard returns as one of the team's top points leaders with seven goals and six assists. Alongside Dillard are seniors Tarley Gaye (six goals, two assists), Nick Larson (five goals, two assists) and Jade Johnson (three goals, four assists).

With six assists last season, Jake Kroke can be counted on to make critical passes when they matter most. The junior, who also scored three goals last year, will captain alongside Johnson.

The rest of the East Region teams could be interesting.

Look to perennial conference powerhouse Fargo South to once more be the team to beat. Though the defending conference and state champions did lose 13 seniors to graduation, that alone does not decrease their almost eerie effectiveness.

Grand Forks Central will be another team hit hard by graduation with the loss of 11 players. Though the Knights fell to West Fargo in the state constellation final, it would be unwise to brush them off.

To have another solid season, the Packers will once again have to come flying out of the starting gate. With gobs of talent and solid coaching, that certainly has a good chance of happening.