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New-look Packers hope to adapt style, surprise fans

West Fargo's Travis Schock rams home the final points Saturday, March 9, during West Fargo's 65-58 win over Fargo Davies at the EDC tournament at the Bison Sports Arena. File photo

By Daniel Determan

Last season, the West Fargo boys basketball team went 15-9 and had the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, then surprised us by picking up three close victories and claiming their first Eastern Dakota Conference since 2010.

“We continued to improve throughout (the season), and we were playing our best basketball at the time when you want to be playing your best basketball,” head coach Greg Limke said. “I think it surprised a lot of people.”

One person it did not surprise was the team’s head coach of 13 years, who believed the pieces were there for a deep playoff run.

“You never know how things are going to go, but we felt that if we could pull it all together, we could make a run at it. I don’t know if we necessarily expected it, but we certainly thought we could do it. All three games were against excellent teams, and we had to play great every night to get it done.”

This year’s team, however, has seen a great deal of roster turnover.

With the exception of senior forward Travis Schock – last season’s leading scorer (11.5 points per game) and senior guard Nick Eisenzimmer, the Packers returning from last year combined for roughly 80 minutes of playing time in the 2012-2013 season, but the coaching staff has been pleased not only with the work being put into each practice so far by the “new guys,” but also the enthusiasm they bring each day.

“There isn’t a lot of varsity experience,” Limke said. “We will have to develop that as the season goes on, but I think there is an excitement, some energy and a focus there. These guys have waited for a chance behind some pretty good players, and they feel like it is their time to show what they can do. I like the excitement I have seen so far.”

The current Packer team has eight players who are at least 6 feet 2 inches tall, which potentially makes for a good half-court team, but Limke believes his team will adapt their play style as necessary.

“(Playing style) is something that develops over the course of the season,” Limke said. “You always have a game plan going into the season -- I think every coach would like to run as much as they can, and if we can, we will -- but you have to adjust as needed. I think our style of play will be what is needed each night.”

The Packer coach looks specifically to one aspect of the game to gauge how his team may fare in the coming season: rebounding. He looks to that to see how aggressive his team is and how willing they are to “do the dirty work.” However, with roughly 85 percent of last season’s rebounds coming from players who are not with the team this year, time will tell on the Packers’ effectiveness in that regard.

According to Limke, the Pack’s greatest strength at the moment is also its greatest shortcoming.

“Right now, we are very unselfish, and at times maybe too unselfish,” Limke said. “When the opportunity is there, we need to take it. But the guys are trying to make each other look better, and that is a good quality to have.”

With all the new players and uncertainty surrounding the team, Limke has one simple expectation: learn to work together and strengthen friendships with teammates, and the rest will work out as it should.

“My biggest expectation is that at the end of the year, we are better friends than we are at the start,” Limke said. “That seems like a simple thing, but in a season when you are around a lot of people and you have to mesh a lot of personalities, that can be difficult. If we can enjoy being around each other more at the end of the year, then it is going to be a good season. If we enjoy coming to practice each day, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Packers begin their season tomorrow night against the Deacons of Fargo Shanley, the reigning state champions. The Deacons also have plenty of new faces, and are eager to prove themselves in th econference.

Tip-off for tomorrow’s game is at 7 p.m. at the West Fargo High School. The girls basketball team will play their first game of the season in the same location at 5:45 p.m.