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Volleyball: Packers bumped from state

Fargo North's Kira Larson (10) spikes against West Fargo's Christina Bruenjes (25) in the second game Thursday during the North Dakota East Region volleyball tournament in Grand Forks. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald

By Tyler Shoberg

For the second straight year, the West Fargo volleyball team's season ended at the Eastern Dakota Conference tournament.

The Packers were bounced from this upcoming weekend's state tournament by a close loss to Fargo South in their state-qualifying game Saturday.

Representing the East at state, which runs Thursday-Saturday in Minot, wound up being the top four regular-season seeds from the conference: Grand Forks Red River, Fargo Shanley, Fargo South and Fargo North.

West Fargo was ranked fifth going into the East Region meet, and finished the season with an 11-7 record in conference play and 20-14 overall.

The Packers started the postseason facing No. 4 Fargo North. The Spartans were winless against West Fargo during the regular season, having lost 3-2 on Aug. 31, and 3-0 on Sept. 30.

But when it comes to tournaments, all bets are off, and North was riding a wave of momentum having won 11 of their last 12 regular-season games, including a sweep at the Fargo Invitational.

The Spartans took the win in four sets, winning 25-20, 25-23, 19-25, 25-12.

Leading North's charge was Keli Johnson, who had a game-high 13 kills and contributed 19 assists. The junior took home All-Conference honors, along with teammates Hope Marty and Kira Larson.

On West Fargo's end, Katelyn Holland set the pace. The senior led her team with 11 kills, and also racked up a game-high five service aces. She took home an All-Conference honor for her efforts, as did fellow Packers Jill Gustafson and Allison Barta.

On Friday, West Fargo was ready for redemption in a do-or-die match. They were set to face Devils Lake, which they had faced once during the regular season and swept 3-0.

This time around was no different, as the Packers went on to win 25-16, 25-15, 25-14.

Leading West Fargo's charge once again was Holland, who had a game-high 12 kills, as well as five aces and seven digs. Gustafson also was a staple having put up 13 assists, four kills and three aces.

With one more chance at a state berth, the Packers needed a banner game against No. 2 Fargo South. The Bruins had topped West Fargo twice during the regular season.

West Fargo took the charge early, winning the first set 25-20. But North rebounded with a 25-20 win of its own. The Packers turned the tables with a lopsided 25-17 win in the third set, which seemed to have tilted the momentum in their favor.

At one point in the fourth set, in fact, West Fargo was a mere three points away from victory at 22-17.

But South responded in unprecedented fashion to win 26-24. They continued the march through the fifth set, and took the win 15-8.

Barta, who earned her second All-EDC honor in as many years, led the Packers with 15 assists and three service aces. Gustafson was an offensive machine, racking up a game-high 15 kills. Holland also stepped up with 13 kills and six service aces.

It was a tough way to end the season, but not one the Packers should necessarily be disappointed about. Though they didn't make state, they did improve on their record last season, when they were 8-6 in the EDC and 19-16 overall.

Four Packers will be lost through graduation, including Holland, Gustafson, Danielle Nelson and Carissa Becher.

But there will be a plethora of Packers to fill the ranks, including the possibility of at least seven seniors.

In that case, the future looks bright.