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Season Preview: Boys Track and Field

West Fargo's Nolan Clark competes in the 400-meter run March 19, at the Cobber High School Invitational indoor track and field meet at Concordia College in Moorhead. David Samson/The Forum

This year's West Fargo boys track and field team is equipped with plenty of talent, and that venerable versatility should help them battle through another tough season.

While they may struggle to get over the loss of some key seniors from last season - namely Spencer Uetz and Jamison Gehrig - Packers coach Darin McKinnon thinks enough talent remains to keep things competitive.

"You'll always miss the seniors, but that's where you have to have those underclassmen step up," he said. "We have a number of kids with experience from last year. A lot of them have a good taste of varsity competition."

West Fargo had a very respectful year in 2009. It ended a three-year drought of finishing second in the East Region to finally finish on top with a conference crown. McKinnon was named Eastern Dakota Conference boys coach of the year for the effort.

The Packers then marched to the North Dakota Class A State Tournament, where they finished third overall behind a solid showing of athletic prowess. Had Uetz been at 100 percent - he battled a broken bone in his foot for four weeks at the end of the season - there's no telling how high the Packers could have finished.

Already this season, West Fargo has shown it's ready to compete with the best. Through two indoor meets, the Packers placed first at the Cobber Invitational on March 19, and second at the Class A Indoor Championship last Friday. (Because of a scoring issue, the Packers originally were thought to have finished third, but McKinnon said Josh Hanson's two-mile results were accidentally omitted from the final results).

"So far, they've been able to hold their own," McKinnon said.

As the season progresses, the Packers will look to continue their winning ways. A successful defense of their EDC crown is at stake, as is a run at the state title. But all that will come down to their overall depth, and who is will step up when it matters most.

"We try to balance everything out," McKinnon said. "We want to be strong on the track, but at the same time, also on the field. We are returning a good group who can do it all."

Who to watch

West Fargo's strength comes not from one or two individual workhorses, but an overall balanced attack. Experience doesn't hurt either: of the 10 West Fargo athletes named All-Conference, eight are coming back for another season.

McKinnon pointed to several Packers, in particular, who work well in a variety of events.

Shane Hillen is a welcomed retuning All-Conference runner. The senior not only will be a leader with experience, but his talent on the track will glean critical points for the Packers. Hillen was fourth in the 400-meters at state last year with a time of 49.84 seconds.

He also will be an important part in the relays, McKinnon said. At state, Hillen ran a leg in the third-place 4x400 relay team, alongside teammates Jackson Lahren, Ryne Schaeffer, and Shane Siverson.

Of those, only Siverson is coming back. The fleet-footed sprinter also returns some ample experience as a junior. He placed seventh in the 400 at state, and earned All-Conference honors at the EDC meet.

Fellow junior Alex Spacek will be looked to for points, as well. Both Siverson and Spacek "have been good contributors to sprints and relays," McKinnon said. "We look to them for points."

For distance and versatility, McKinnon pointed out Jake Kroke. The All-Conference junior is "one of those athletes who can run the 400, but can go up and run middle distance or distance races, too," he said. Kroke ran a leg in the second-place 4x800 meter relay team at state.

Another All-EDC returner includes Darin Baltezore. The sophomore placed third in the two-mile race during last Friday's meet, and also ran a leg on the second-place 4x800 relay team.

Nick Williams is a senior who will be looked up to on the field. He took third place in the long jump at both the EDC and state last season, and also placed first at EDC and third at state in the triple jump.

Jumps in general will be in good shape, McKinnon said.

"The nice thing about the boys is there always seems to be opportunities where we have we can use different guys in different events," he said.

And there will be no chance to rest this season, either. "Everyone is so competitive. Everyone in the east is tough. You can't let your guard down," McKinnon said.