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Packers finish second at state

Williston goalie Kinsey McCaughtry (30) makes a save on West Fargo's Kacie Johnson during the second period of Thursday's State Tournament game in Grand Forks. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald

In the end, another state title just wasn't in the cards for the West Fargo girls hockey team.

Despite rolling to the championship match with shutout wins over Williston and Grand Forks, the Packers stumbled in Saturday's grand finale and fell 4-1 to Fargo North.

It was a heartbreaking loss for West Fargo, as evident by their somber reaction on the ice afterward. For some, like top seniors Kacie Johnson, Kaylee Lothspeich, Melanie Sopp and Katlyn Springer, this was the end to their illustrious prep hockey careers. For the team as a whole, however, it was a missed opportunity to defend their first state title from last season.

Even so, one cannot rush to judgment on West Fargo's season based solely on the outcome of the state championship game. In fact, as a whole, the Packers had another remarkably strong year, losing just four times overall, while finishing No. 1 in the East Region with a conference record of 18-2-0.

Evidence of their dominating play was apparent during the opening- and semifinal-round matches of the state tournament.

The Packers rolled to a 4-0 win Thursday against No. 8 Williston. Leading the charge was Lothspeich, who scored the game-winner during a power play opportunity at the 9-minute mark of the first period. She would finish the game with two scores and an assist.

Right behind were Johnson and Springer, who each tallied goals, while sophomore goalie Andrea Klug defied any Coyote attempts with 9 saves on the night.

The story was similar against Grand Forks. Though the Packers barely beat the KnightRiders 3-2 on Feb. 15, any showing of similarity between the two teams was squashed Friday. West Fargo received goals from Britney Yliniemi, Springer and Johnson in each of the three periods to beat Grand Forks 3-0. Klug also stifled 10 shots to hold the shutout.

But against the Spartans, things just weren't clicking. North scored three straight goals in the first period before Johnson answered for the Packers in the second. Then, just when it appeared that momentum might shift in West Fargo's favor, Outstanding Senior Award finalist Halie Olmstead put the nail in the proverbial coffin for North with her third goal of the game just three minutes later.

But while they didn't go out on a high note, the Packers have plenty to be proud of.

For starters, they boasted some of the top players in the state. Of the 15 players on this year's All Conference team, six are Packers (Klug, Hayley Walsh, Sopp, Johnson, Lothspeich and Springer). Klug, Walsh, Johnson and Sopp also were named to this year's All State team.

And even though they'll be losing their top three points producers from this season - including Johnson, who led West Fargo with 69 points (No. 2 in the state), and her 40 goals were the most tallied in the state - they'll have plenty of talent remaining to put up an excellent fight in the years to come.

Who knows? Next year, with a little work, they just might be able to bring that state title back to West Fargo.