PACKERS EARN CONSOLATION CROWN
For the first time in three years, the West Fargo volleyball team earned a spot in the state tournament.
It was a long time coming, especially for seniors who witnessed their team come so close in recent years, only to be snubbed at the last minute.
But last weekend, the Packers made their appearance count. After nearly causing a huge upset in the first round over the West's top-ranked Bismarck Century, West Fargo would go on to defeat their next two opponents and come home with a consolation championship.
It was the culmination of a long, tough year, but one the Packers can be proud of.
"Just making it to state was huge, and I don't think we can really regret anything," Packers senior Allison Barta said.
West Fargo's season was one of ups and downs. In the Eastern Dakota Conference, they were 10-8 and finished middle of the pack in fifth place. Overall, however, they were below the .500 mark, entering the state tournament as the East's No. 4 seed.
That meant facing off against a tough opponent, Bismarck Century, in Thursday's opening round of the State Tournament at the FargoDome. The Patriots were undefeated in their conference en route to both regular-season and overall WDA championships.
It was no small surprise, then, when West Fargo opened the game with a 27-25 first-set victory. Barta got the kill to make it 26-25, and Rachel Hummel put it away with a game-winning block on the next play.
Century answered the next set to make it an even 1-1, but the Packers rebounded.
West Fargo climbed back from an early five-point deficit before going on a 10-1 streak, highlighted by three straight kills from Courtney Suppa, and the set-winner by Christina Bruenjes to make it 25-20.
As they'd done before, the Patriots answered to win the fourth set and force a tiebreaker.
In their final set, the Packers tied several times early, but never really could catch up to Century. Barta got a kill to make it 12-14 and put the Packers within striking distance, but Ashley Bohrer put the nail in the coffin with the game-winning kill.
Even though they lost, West Fargo arguably played one of its best games of the season. In fact, "it was probably the most fun we had in a game all year," Barta said.
Now bumped down to the consolation semifinals, the Packers were set to face Bismarck High School. This was not the first meeting of the teams, however, as West Fargo had two season wins against them.
The Demons won the first set Friday 25-20, but that would be as far as they got. West Fargo dominated the last three sets, winning 25-18, 25-13, 25-15.
Andrea Klug racked up 22 assists in the effort, and would finish with 66 on the tournament. Barta led the Packers with 15 kills.
Ending on a high note
Next up was the grand finale, and No. 2 Dickinson. In two regular-season meetings against the Midgets, West Fargo was winless.
That would change Saturday, but not before a real nail-biter.
The Packers were aggressive, and won the first two sets 25-16, 25-20. But Dickinson answered, and soon tied things 2-2 to force overtime.
"We were a little emotional after those first two sets, and got a little sloppy," Barta said. "But, in the end, we played how we knew we could play."
Dickinson led 2-1 early in the overtime set, but Barta's kill tied things up on the next play and the Packers eventually broke away.
Senior Hayley Miller went on a four-serve stretch, which included an ace on her second try. The Packers capitalized on some Dickinson mistakes, and Amanda Levin's kill later on made it 14-9. While the Midgets' Abby Grove made a kill to keep them alive, Barta saw to it that it wasn't for long.
The senior standout got the fitting game-winning kill, and teammates and fans erupted in cheering.
The Packers proved they were a team to be reckoned with, but it did not happen overnight. After a tough start to the season, West Fargo eventually came together and worked as one toward a common goal.
"Our lineup changed so much from the beginning of the year. Younger players really started stepping up." Barta said. "We developed as a team."
Barta and Hummel led the Packers with 29 kills apiece during the state tournament. The seniors both were named to the All-Tournament team, while Barta also was named to the All-State first team.
In all, West Fargo will be without six seniors from this season. Besides Barta and Hummel, Katie Woodbury, Hannah Schnepf, Rachelle Albert and Miller are set to graduate this spring.
But several underclassmen showed West Fargo will still have plenty of talent for next year.
Klug, a junior, was an assist machine, and sophomore Suppa proved herself at the net with several key kills during state. Another sophomore, Levin, also was a force to be reckoned with, putting up 27 kills on the tournament, 11 of which came against Bismarck.
Bruenjes likely will be a leader next year as well, as the junior proved her prowess on both offense and defense.
In reality, it is anyone's guess as to what next season will bring. All that is certain, is that this year will go down as one to remember.
"We definitely peaked at the right time," Barta said.