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Packer girls take second in conference

Cassidy Thorson of West Fargo attempts a basket during the Shanley win in the East Region championship game Saturday at the Bison Sports Arena. Dave Wallis1 / 2
Alison Enno of West Fargo takes the ball down court past Jackie Day of Shanley during the Shanley win in the East Region championship game Saturday at the Bison Sports Arena. Dave Wallis2 / 2

The West Fargo girls basketball team is returning to the state tournament, but it is not as sweet of a return as they would have liked.

The conference-leading Packers will enter the tournament as the east’s No. 2 seed after taking second in the Eastern Dakota Conference tournament this past weekend.

The girls started the tournament with a 74-70 victory over Grand Forks Red River — the conference’s No. 9 seed — on Tuesday evening.

“It’s a crazy time, and they are a tough matchup for any team,” head coach Barb Metcalf said. “They shot well, but it comes down to defense, and when we needed stops, we got them. We needed to make the extra pass and make them work, but we did a better job spreading the court, and we stepped up when we needed to.”

The team was led by senior forward Shelby Gustafson in a performance Metcalf called “the game of her life.” She finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds, and also made five of her seven free-throw attempts, but credited the team’s effort in the victory.

“It just feels great to get that first win,” Gustafson said. “It puts us off on the right foot in this tournament.”

They stayed on the right foot on Friday, when they beat Valley City 59-47 to earn their place in the conference championship game.

Junior Cassidy Nelson led the team on Friday night with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Gustafson and senior guard Cassidy Thorson each had 12 of their own.

The Pack went into the championship game as the favored team -- having beaten the Deacons twice in the regular season -- but cold shooting caused a downward spiral that led to a 69-47 defeat for West Fargo and an EDC runners-up plaque.

“It wasn’t our night,” Metcalf said. “We didn’t shoot very well, and that sort of fed into a lack of defense. Credit goes to Shanley. Sometimes these things happen for a reason, but we are ecstatic about the season we’ve had so far, and we are not going to let this bump in the road get us down.”

Sophomore guard Kennedi Sand led the team in scoring with 11 points, seven of which came in the second half. Nelson was the only other Packer in double digits, scoring 10.

“We have to remember that teams are now catching up to what we were doing at the beginning of the season,” Metcalf said. “Teams are playing good ball, and sometimes we level out. We have to find that next gear now. We are going to come back and give it all we got this weekend.”

The weekend did not end on too sour of a note for the Packers, as Thorson and Gustafson were named to the All-EDC team, and Metcalf was named the EDC’s coach of the year.

“It’s very humbling,” Metcalf said. “To me, it’s not a ‘coach of the year’ award; it’s a ‘team of the year’ award. That’s how it goes. When your team does well, you get the ‘blame,’ and I’ll take the blame for these kids, because they are a very special group of young ladies and the total team.”

Thorson was also named the conference’s senior athlete of the year, but she could not take credit for the award.

“It’s a great feeling, but I wouldn’t have it without the teammates I have and the coaches I grew up with,” Thorson said.

Her coach, on the other hand, knows exactly why Thorson’s name is on that award.

“It is a kid like Cass Thorson that really, to me, epitomizes what a team is all about,” Metcalf said. “She will forgo her own stats for what is beneficial to the team, and you know what? She has earned it. It is icing on the cake for her career. She gets rebounds and assists. She always has the toughest defensive assignment and she brings the ball up. A lot of times, that award will go to someone with a lot of points, but they don’t do everything else that Cass Thorson does. I’m proud to say I got to coach that kid for four years.”

The 20-2 Packers will face Minot on Thursday at 3 p.m. for their first game of the state tournament. They beat Minot 57-52 on Dec. 27.

“We have to work on a few things, but we’ll be feeling good going into the tournament. I know this loss wasn’t what we wanted, but we’ll come hungry for a win on Thursday.”