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Wakeup call for girls basketball

Fargo North's Courtney Johnson, left, defends against Lexi Lennon of West Fargo during their game Saturday at North High School. Michael Vosburg / Forum Communications Co.1 / 2
Rachel Hummel of West Fargo shoots past Emily Wehri of Fargo North during their game Saturday at North High School in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Communications Co.2 / 2

Through seven regular-season games, the West Fargo girls basketball team has lost just once.

That lone hiccup came Thursday on the road in Grand Forks when No. 2 Red River (4-1 EDC, 4-2) dominated the court in the form of a 38-20 halftime lead culminating in an eventual 20-point advantage by game's end.

The Packers rebounded Saturday with a 74-57 victory against Fargo North (2-5, 3-5) that gave the Eastern Dakota Conference leaders a 6-1 record. But that 66-46 loss to the Roughriders earlier in the week was a wakeup call that came just at the right time, West Fargo coach Barb Metcalf said.

"When we shoot 28 percent and they shoot 68 percent, that says something," said Metcalf, who is coaching her fourth West Fargo varsity girls basketball team. "It was an off night for everyone. Those kinds of things are going to happen, and when better than early in the season? It's good timing, in my view."

The Packers struggled against the Riders in what wound up being their lowest scoring game of the year since a 53-33 season-opening victory over Valley City. West Fargo leads the EDC with an average of 64.2 points per game, while allowing just 40.6 against.

Only Cassidy Thorson broke the double-digit mark with 11 points for West Fargo, while the Riders were blessed with three players in the same category that included Ellie Ripplinger's game high of 24 points.

While the Packers may not have been clicking cohesively against Red River, Metcalf said she sensed problems from the get-go.

"The goal is to finish every day strong, and start every game with energy," she said. "That's what was missing at Red River. The kids know that; it opened their eyes. You can't just step onto a court and expect to win. But they learned from it."

That lesson apparently sunk in, as evident by the following game's lopsidedness against the Spartans.

Whereas the Packers struggled to even find the basket against Red River, it was a whole different ballgame against Fargo North after jumping to a 14-point lead at the half.

West Fargo's Erin Krogh finished with a game-high 21 points, which included three 3-pointers. Season team points leader Lexi Lennon contributed 15 of her own. The junior is averaging more than 14 points per game; fifth best in the EDC.

And even though the win kept the Packers firmly planted atop the East Region standings, players aren't thinking too hard about it.

"We don't talk about it," Metcalf said. "Our main philosophy is to just work hard and outwork our opponent. We just want to make sure we don't look at (the standings) too much."

From a coaching standpoint, however, having the Packers lead not only the region, but the state is an exciting and momentous occasion.

"When you think about it, and especially for West Fargo girls basketball, I don't remember the last time we've been ranked No. 1 in the state," Metcalf said.

That strength and team cohesiveness, especially on the backs of last year's season that resulted in yet another missed bid for a state tournament berth, speaks dividends on the progression of West Fargo's program overall.

"I guess, as a coaching staff, we're excited about the overall direction of the program," Metcalf said. "You want to build a program where you don't graduate tradition. We're excited how we were able to improve from year to year."

It will take that same team chemistry and mental toughness the Packers have possessed thus far to continue their march to the possibility of their first state tournament in several years. But first, Metcalf said the Packers need to work on their defense, specifically man-to-man.

"It has to get better. We're really going to emphasize that moving forward," she said.

They'll get that chance Friday when they head to Fargo South (1-6, 1-6) for a 5:45 p.m. game. Even though the Bruins are sitting at the bottom of the conference standings, it's important the Packers learn from their Red River loss and hit the court with energy and the right mindset.

"The chemistry is key. When our kids are clicking, we're going to be a tough team to beat," Metcalf said. "When we're on, we're on."