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Top West Fargo sports stories of the year

Packers softball wins 20th straight title

Even a split of the program wouldn't stop West Fargo softball from winning yet another state championship.

The Packers (33-3), the East Region's top seed, defeated West Region top seed Bismarck 5-2 in the Class A state championship game on June 3 at Ft. Lincoln Elementary School's softball field in Mandan. Packers senior pitcher Stephi Dullum, the senior athlete of the year finalist from the East Region, allowed two runs on six hits with nine strikeouts and a walk. She finished the season with 283 strikeouts and a 29-2 record.

Gabby DuBois, West Fargo's clean-up hitter, went 2-for-3 in the championship game including a three-run home run blast in the first inning. That was her third home run of the tournament, pushing her RBI total to nine over the three games. DuBois ended the season with a team-high 60 RBIs.

The Packers have won 20 consecutive state championships, including nine straight since the sport became sanctioned by the North Dakota High School Activities Association in 2009.

"That's always a good feeling," head coach Pat Johnson said as he looked at his team celebrating. "It's always good to be at that point."

Packers football breaks through, wins state championship

After losing in the state semifinals for the previous two seasons, the West Fargo football team broke through to the state championship and won it.

The Packers scored 22 unanswered points on their way to a 56-28 victory over West Region No. 3-seeded Minot in the North Dakota Class 3A state football championship during the 25th annual Dakota Bowl on Nov. 10 at the Fargodome. East Region top-seeded West Fargo (12-0) capped an undefeated season with its first state championship since 2003. Andy Gravdahl was named the Class 3A senior athlete of the year after breaking several Packers school passing records.

Packers head coach Jay Gibson is now six-for-six in state championship games since leading the Packers to their first title in 1993 at the inaugural Dakota Bowl.

"There's many leaders on this team," Gibson said. "It means a lot. It means more to those guys. They're really happy."

Packers baseball bats get hot en route to state title

West Fargo baseball found offensive momentum just when it needed to.

The Packers scored 10 runs on seven hits in the first inning as the East Region No. 1-seeded Packers defeated defending state champion Dickinson 18-2 for the North Dakota Class A state championship on June 3 at Memorial Ballpark in Mandan.

Packers head coach Brett Peterson said it was unlike a first inning he had seen all year as everyone had quality at-bats.

In what Peterson said was maybe his best performance of the year, Morgan Kapaun went 4⅓ innings and allowed three hits and two earned runs, while striking out five and walking four batters.

Jacob Faircloth ended 3-for-3 with three runs and two RBIs. Andy Gravdahl went 2-for-4, Parker Borg was 2-for-3 with three runs and Drake Flesche added three RBIs. Kapaun helped his cause with two RBIs on 2-for-3 hitting, while Dustin Mertz chipped in two RBIs.

"I think about this every year," Faircloth said. "This is what your dream is to get here and play in a state championship. The ultimate goal is to win it. It's a great feeling."

Five Packers wrestlers take home state titles

Before they started their careers at North Dakota State, West Fargo wrestlers Brandon Metz and Jesse Shearer ended their high school careers on top.

Metz and Shearer were among five West Fargo wrestlers to win state titles in the North Dakota Class A state individual tournament on Feb. 18 at the Fargodome.

Shearer tied West Fargo alumni Preston Lehmann's state record of 42 pins in a season by beating No. 6 Justin Bergquist of Bismarck by fall in 5 minutes, 6 seconds.

Metz finished an undefeated season with a championship at 285 pounds with an 11-3 major decision over Bismarck Century's Seth Braun for his 200th career win.

JJ Harms won his second state championship, this time at 113 pounds, by defeating No. 3 seed Will Kleinknecht of Mandan with a 7-3 decision.

Jared Franek, a three-time state champion, won a state championship at 152 pounds by fall over No. 3 Trey Pajimula of Century in 2:44.

Cade Pederson won his first state championship at 160 pound with a 40-10 record. He beat Parker Wahl of Bismarck with a 6-4 decision.

"It's pretty crazy. Not a lot of coaches get to work with a group of guys like this with all the accolades and work ethic and everything it takes to be a champion," then Packers head coach Kevin Fynboh said. "We've just got to soak it in and enjoy it."

Metz was also runner-up at the USA Wrestling Junior Greco-Roman and Junior Freestyle Nationals while Franek was runner-up in the USA Wrestling Junior Freestyle National Championship match.

Three Mustangs boys swimmers win state championships, city swimmers make all-state team

West Fargo Sheyenne boys swimming and diving didn't get just its first state champion in 2017, the Mustangs got three.

Dillon Stangeland won the 100-yard butterfly, Zack Bueling won the 100 freestyle and Jacob Smith took first in the 500 freestyle at the North Dakota state boys swimming and diving meet on March 4 at the Bismarck Aquatics Center. The trio, all of whom were named to the all-state first team, led Sheyenne to a fifth-place showing in the team standings with 220 points—the best finish in team history.

Stangeland finished his career with a state victory by finishing in 52.11 seconds—just 0.49 seconds ahead of Sam Artz of Bismarck Century.

Smith, a junior, shaved six seconds off his preliminary time and finished the 500 freestyle in 4:51.01, beating Chris Birnbaum of Century by 5.18 seconds.

Bueling finished the 100 freestyle in 48.13 seconds—0.6 seconds ahead of Luke Bergstrom of Fargo South.

"I knew what these guys have been capable of this season. It's a process of getting older and faster," Sheyenne head coach Erich Richardson said. "I couldn't be happier for what they did this season. They put in the work, and it showed at the end."

West Fargo's Jacob Nygaard, who was named to the all-state first team, took third in the 100 butterfly in 53.44 seconds at the state meet. James Doyel, who was named to the all-state second team, took sixth in the 200 individual medley in 2:05.96 and seventh in the 100 backstroke in 57.38 seconds.

At the girls state swimming and diving meet in 2017, West Fargo eighth grader Olivia Hettinger, who was named to the all-state first team, was runner-up in the 100-yard backstroke in 58.27 seconds. She also helped the West Fargo 200 medley relay team with Sophie Weisz, Tatum Brooks and Mariah Heise take runner-up in 1:50.26. Mustangs senior Johanna Jones and freshman Breanna Lund made the all-state second team. Jones was third in the 50 freestyle in 24.79 seconds. Lund was sixth in the 100 backstroke in 1:01.23 and helped Abby Triplett, Tierney Howell and Paulina Bekkum take sixth in the 200 medley relay in 1:55.45.

Knewtson wins individual girls tennis state title for Mustangs, who finish runner-up as a team

Even as a freshman, Monti Knewtson finished the girls tennis season as poised as a state champion for West Fargo Sheyenne.

Knewtson settled in and won her first state singles title, beating rival and defending state champion Shaelyn Johnson of Grand Forks Red River 7-5, 6-1 in the championship match.

Knewtson is the first-ever state state singles champion from West Fargo, boys or girls. She's only the second player from the Fargo metro area to win a girls singles title since 1983.

"I just tried to go out there and not be nervous," Knewtson said. "I needed to love the experience, because it's pretty cool to play in the state championship match. I just wanted to have fun and not throw it away."

Red River, one year after losing a down-to-the-wire thriller to Sheyenne, took back the North Dakota girls state tennis championship in a 3-2 victory over Sheyenne.

The Mustangs beat Red River 3-2 for the state championship in 2016.

Mustangs boys basketball makes first state tournament, Packers win in state consolation

Four rivalry matchups between the West Fargo and West Fargo Sheyenne boys basketball teams provided plenty of excitement and went down in history.

In the final game of the season for both teams, Joe Pistorius scored 23 points to lead West Fargo to a 65-56 win over Sheyenne in the North Dakota Class A state tournament fifth-place game on March 11 at the Bismarck Event Center.

After the Mustangs had beaten the Packers for the first time in school history 58-55 on Jan. 10 at Sheyenne, the Packers won 94-60 on their home court on Feb. 17. In the East Region tournament semifinals on March 3, Sheyenne's Josh Thiele hit a last-second 3-pointer to beat West Fargo and send the Mustangs to their first state tournament in program history.

"These guys reached a big milestone for the program. I'm proud of them," Sheyenne head coach Tom Kirchoffner said. "(The seniors) have shown the younger guys what it's like, how to treat each other. They're a connected group. There's a lot of chemistry and they care for one another."

The Packers ended the season 21-6 and the Mustangs finished 17-10.

"It's just a fun group of guys," all-East Region guard Haboniman Simon said. "It just makes basketball more fun, and the coaching staff is just great. We just like to goof around and have fun."

Mustangs softball starts program with state tournament appearance

Players for West Fargo Sheyenne softball learned how to win while playing for West Fargo and didn't take long to win for their own program.

In their first season since splitting from the Packers, the Mustangs made the Class A state tournament as the East Region's No. 3 seed. In the state quarterfinals, West Region No. 2-seeded Dickinson beat the Mustangs 6-5 on June 1 at Ft. Lincoln Elementary School's softball field in Mandan. Sheyenne (19-11) ended its season in the consolation semifinals with a 9-4 loss to West Region No. 4-seeded Minot on June 2.

"We never quit. We were in it until the end," Sheyenne head coach Mark Woodbury said. "We're just going to keep working hard, and hopefully the young girls gain some experience from this state tournament."

Mustangs boys golf, Johnson take second at state

The West Fargo Sheyenne boys golf team couldn't have gotten closer to winning a state championship.

After starting the first day 10 strokes back, Sheyenne finished 48-over-par to end up two strokes behind Grand Forks Red River and took runner-up for the second season in a row at the North Dakota Class A state boys golf meet on June 6 at the Grand Forks Country Club. Sheyenne's Cole Johnson ended up runner-up as an individual with a five-over 149—just one stroke behind Justin Nelson of Wahpeton.

"I'm not a happy camper today, but I'll get over it," said West Fargo and Sheyenne co-head coach Chuck Gad, who retired after the state meet. "When you're as good as those guys, it's just a matter of inches or a bad break. They're young and disappointed. You don't want them to worry about it. They didn't lose it by themselves. As a team, they could've done better, but it was no one person who lost it."

Mustangs boys hockey starts program in new arena

In a new and packed arena and as a first-year program, West Fargo Sheyenne grabbed its first win against old teammates.

After falling behind by two goals, Sheyenne displayed offensive firepower and scored five goals in the third period to take an 8-5 win over West Fargo on Dec. 19 at the new West Fargo Sports Arena. The Mustangs took their first win of the season and in program history against their new in-city rivals.

The first Packers and Mustangs boys hockey matchup came with such anticipation, the West Fargo School District sold tickets before the event. Both schools started playing their first season at the West Fargo Sports Arena, which cost $16.5 million to build.

"Some of these guys have been playing against each other for a long time," first Sheyenne head coach Dave Benson said. "They're just heated battles. They played hard and went back and forth. That's what you expect in a great rivalry game."

Moton dominates throwing events, Mustangs and Packers excel at state track and field meet

Akealy Moton, West Fargo's all-time girls basketball scorer and now a University of North Dakota basketball player, found her state championships in track and field.

Moton won the state javelin title with a 145 feet, 5 inch throw and then won the state shot put title with a 48-6 throw—a new state meet record—for her third consecutive state championship in those events at the North Dakota Class A state girls track and field meet on May 27 at the Bismarck Community Bowl.

In javelin, Moton beat runner-up Regan Dennis of Bismarck Century by 17-9. Moton also took third in the girls discus with a 133-7, improving on her seeded distance by 10 feet.

"It's definitely a good feeling," Moton said. "I think it was definitely a good meet, and I was happy about it. My adrenaline is still there."

Also at the state meet, West Fargo's Zach Willis, now on the North Dakota State football team, took third in the boys shot put with a 53-foot throw and sixth in the discus with a distance of 151-11. Jennifer Dufner, now running for NDSU, took fourth in the girls 3,200 meters in 11:05.56, fifth in the 800 in 2:20.12 and took sixth in the 1,600 with a time of 5:07.77.

For the Mustangs, the boys 800 relay team of Jesse Shorma, Devin Schatz, Kyle Holoien and Caleb Kuznia were second in 1:28.63, losing to Bismarck Century by .02 seconds. Sheyenne's boys 400 relay team of Kuznia, Shorma, Keaton Mahnke and Jaden May was third in 42.85 seconds, which was .56 seconds behind Bismarck Legacy's state meet-record setting time.

Kuznia, Schatz, Holoien and Shorma were also fourth in the 1,600 boys relay in 3:29.37 and were less than two seconds behind first-place Legacy.

Schatz was also runner-up in the boys pole vault with a mark of 14 feet. Carter Bonnema improved on his seed distance in the boys javelin, throwing 170-3 for fifth place.

Sheyenne, West Fargo continue dance dominance

West Fargo and West Fargo Sheyenne dance teams continued to dominate even on a national stage.

Both the West Fargo and Sheyenne dance teams finished in the top 10 of the Universal Dance Association national dance team championships Feb. 3-5 in Orlando, Fla.

West Fargo was runner-up in the large varsity high kick category behind Maine South High School while Sheyenne was seventh in the same category. West Fargo also advanced to the semifinals for jazz and received an invite to participate in worlds and received first place.

"They push us. They make us want to work harder. They make us want us to do our best and not have any regrets," then West Fargo head coach Sarah Parkhouse said of Sheyenne. "I think it was a great motivator."

This season at the West Fargo Packatahna Dance Invitational, the Sheyenne Dance Team varsity took first in high kick and pom Dec. 9 at West Fargo High School. Sheyenne also took runner-up in varsity jazz and third in hip hop. The Sheyenne junior varsity took runner-up in pom and third in jazz.

The Packatahnas varsity took runner-up in high kick and pom and third in jazz. The Packatahnas junior varsity won in high kick, jazz and pom.

Sheyenne wins state clay target meet in first year

West Fargo Sheyenne's Ben Moxness shot a 73 and led the first-year Mustang program to a state championship at the North Dakota State High School Clay Target League state meet on June 17 at The Shooting Park in Horace. Sheyenne shot a 361 to beat Grand Forks Central's 356 by just five.

Though the Mustangs didn't have anyone in the top three, five tied in the top eight. Devin Stenerson, Karson Gilliland, Ethan Frisch and Cole Thompson—who all made the all-state team—all shot 72s to make the eight-way tie for eighth place.

Sheyenne finished runner-up in Conference 7—the largest conference in the state—but had been in the bottom half of the conference until the last week of the season. Moxness said being a part of Sheyenne's first season and its run to a championship season was special.

"I didn't know what to expect. There's new kids and a bunch of kids involved," Sheyenne head coach Peter Bruno said. "We started off a little slower than we would've liked this morning, but they hit their stride. Man, it just kept getting better as they were going."

Honorable mention

• West Fargo's Grant Boser gets invite to national sled hockey camp

• Packers volleyball wins East Region championship before taking fifth at Class A state tournament

• West Fargo Sheyenne girls soccer wins first Eastern Dakota Conference regular season title in program's second season

• Mustangs baseball makes run to Class A state tournament semifinals

• Packers boys soccer wins first Eastern Dakota Conference regular season title

• Sheyenne's Caleigh Anderson, West Fargo's Hope Pringle finish as all-state cross country runners

• Joe Beske takes third at boys tennis state tournament

• Maggie Manson takes third at Class A state girls golf meet for Mustangs

• Casey Coste marks first West Fargo Sheyenne volleyball player to make the North Dakota Optimist Club and North Dakota High School Coaches Association all star volleyball match

• Carter Bonnema marks first West Fargo Sheyenne graduate in Lions all-star series

• West Fargo American Legion baseball team makes Gopher Classic championship for first time

• West Fargo's Matt Strahm shows promise in MLB, gets traded to San Diego

Colton Pool

Pool is a reporter for The West Fargo Pioneer covering city sports and community news. He was the sports editor for The Dickinson Press covering Dickinson State athletics, high school athletics and Southwest Speedway. He graduated from North Dakota State with a degree in journalism and a minor in English. You can reach him by phone at 701-451-5715 or tweet him @CPoolReporter. 

(701) 451-5715