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Wrestling team eyes a three-peat

Jordan Shearer, top, of West Fargo wrestles Jaden Fettig of Bismarck during their 120-pound match of the Class A team dual championship of the North Dakota Wrestling Tournament on Friday, Feb. 15, in Fargo. File photo

The West Fargo wrestling team is coming off its best season in team history. They had a perfect 21-0 record, 17 state place winners, three individual state champions and their second consecutive team championship.

With 11 of those place winners returning for this season, expectations are undoubtedly high. According to head coach Kayle Dangerud, who is in his ninth year as the Packer’s coach, those expectations can be met – possibly exceeded – if the team can stay healthy.

“We have a lot to be excited about right now,” Dangerud said. “We have a good group of kids that are working as hard as they have ever worked. To see that development already is really promising. We have six seniors this year, and we get some great leadership out of those guys. We have a couple of state champs out of the junior class. We see a lot of good things happening this year.”

Highlight those returning are juniors Weston Dobler and Jordan Shearer. The 145-pound Dobler will look to earn his second straight individual state championship this season, while the 126-pound Shearer will work toward tying a state record by earning his fifth straight title.

The area of interest may be in the higher weight classes, as Dangerud and his staff look to fill the voids left by Zach Eider, who finished fifth in state in the 220-pound class, and 195-pounder Preston Lehmann – the three-time state champ and last year’s Mr. Wrestler Award winner, with state records for wins in a season (50), pins in a season (42) and pins in a career (184).

However, freshman Brandon Metz will return to his post as the team’s heavyweight, the coaching staff is confident in their wrestlers who are moving up a class or two.

“I feel really good about our upper weights right now,” Dangerud said. “The guys have gotten a lot bigger, and they have matured over the past year. Alby Rodriguez will fit in there really well, and Tanner Kuznia and Kyle Kragnes may go up a weight class. We definitely have the bodies there. We just have to stay healthy and continue to improve.”

While experience may be an issue in certain weight classes, Dangerud believes the team’s work ethic more than makes up for that shortcoming. According to the coach, the Packers had more offseason activity (summer tournaments, training, etc.) than any other team in the state, and the work they have put into the first two weeks of practice have been overwhelming positive.

“I have been as impressed with them work-wise as any other team that we have ever had here, if not more,” Dangerud said. “When you have that to look forward to, I envision us having a lot of fun this year.”

While the Packers are the favorites to come out of the east, the Bismarck High Demons are the likely favorites to take the state title this year, as they return of 176 points from last year’s state tournament, as opposed to West Fargo’s 164.5 returning points. However, the Packers are willing to bet they will be in the hunt for a third straight championship.

“We expect to compete for a state championship every year,” Dangerud said. “I think we are just going to work right now, but as the season progresses, I can see us expecting a lot more out of each other each and every week. They are going to surprise people.”

The Packers begin their season on Tuesday with a 7 p.m. dual in Valley City.