Season Preview: Girls Soccer
Last year, after finishing in fourth place by the end of the regular season in Eastern Dakota Conference play, the West Fargo girls soccer team was far from a favorite to win a state title.
But win they did, defeating Minot - coincidentally, also a No. 4 seed - by one shot in a shootout to garner West Fargo's first girls soccer championship in school history.
At the time, coach Jon Melendez saw it as the culmination of a grind-it-out mentality and never-say-die work ethic that finally gave the Packers' the edge when it mattered most. After missing a state berth for three straight years, West Fargo pulled out the stops in 2010 for both a berth and title.
Now, the Packers will be attempting to defend this coveted championship for the first time. They'll be without some veteran talent, however, but will gain some fresh faces.
Most notable of these will be that of their new coach, James Moe. An assistant coach last year and with the West Fargo girls soccer program for the past five, Moe is taking over for Melendez, who left to take the head coaching position for Fargo North's boys soccer team.
"I'm excited, because I do know the girls and I know their talents and stuff," Moe said. "But I'm nervous, too, because this is the first time I've been a head coach."
Although he might be a bit green as the leader of a soccer team, he's certainly not new to the sport. Moe, now 27, has been playing it since he was 4 years old. With his more than 20 years of knowledge, combined with his experience interacting with current Packers, Moe is poised to continue where last season finished off.
"For the players and parents and fans, once you've established a (state championship) season, it's expected every year," he said.
But he'll need talent on the field to do it, which is something he's not too concerned about.
"I think they've come in more prepared than I've seen in past years," Moe said, of his players. "They've come in focused and with the right attitude. They're not overanalyzing, and not taking any team for granted."
Who to watch
The Packers finished last season with an overall record of 10-4-6, and fourth in the EDC. All four of their losses were against conference opponents, however, and were by just one goal.
Keeping them so competitive were talented leaders that sparked West Fargo throughout the season.
Overall, the Packers are minus six of those, seniors who graduated and have since moved on. Three of the most-decorated individuals will be sorely missed: Kelsey Kloos (All EDC, All Tournament, and first team All State), Tia Lopez (All EDC) and Courtney Voeller (All EDC and second team All State).
But while they lost six seniors from last year, the Packers pick up six this year: Melissa Halda, Kaylee Lothspeich, Paige Swanson, Hillary Hugelen, Megan Rotert and Andrea Muller.
"We returned a lot of our girls," Moe said "A lot of those who came back were major role players, so we have a good group of girls here. And we have a lot of talented young girls who will have an impact."
The Packers already have named their captains, too: seniors Halda, Lothspeich, and Rotert, and junior Lauren Johnson.
Halda will be one of West Fargo's strongest assets as its starting goalkeeper. Last season, one of Halda's highlights was an 11-save shutout in the state semifinals over Fargo South, a team for which the Packers had fallen to twice during the regular season.
Muller should help with the Packers' offensive punch. Last year, the All-Conference forward scored four straight goals to lift West Fargo to a 5-1 win over Bismarck Century in the state quarterfinals. She was named to the All-Tournament team for her efforts.
Other players to watch include Johnson, who also was an All-Tournament selection, and Hayley Walsh, who scored the Packers' first goal during the state title game last year as a freshman.
These players are just a few of what West Fargo has to offer, however.
"We have a lot of returning talent," Moe said.
The Packers were scheduled to host Devils Lake on Tuesday, but the game was rescheduled to 6 p.m. Friday because of poor field conditions. If all goes well, West Fargo will kick of its regular season Thursday with a home game hosting Fargo Shanley at 7 p.m.
"There's a lot of really strong teams" in the EDC, Moe said. "It's going to be an exciting season."