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The West Fargo bowling team celebrates after winning the North Dakota State Tournament championship Nov. 20 in Mandan. Submitted photo

High school bowling has been a club sport in North Dakota for only four years. But in that time, one school quickly jumped out as the team to beat in the state.

"Fargo South has been very dominant," West Fargo coach Paul Hirchert said. "They are our arch rival; our nemesis, if you will."

Since bowling began, the Bruins have come home with every state title, and have had a strangle-hold on the East Region meet.

It was with great pleasure, then, when the Packers not only topped their biggest opponent during the conference matchup, but also wretched the state crown away during the championship game Nov. 20 in Mandan.

"The kids stepped up big this year. They were fantastic," Hirchert said.

The West Fargo bowling team has improved every year. It finished in sixth and seventh place the first two seasons, before taking third in 2010.

Part of the Packers success has come from a steady stream of interest from athletes. Including both the junior varsity and varsity teams, West Fargo boasted 17 participants.

And even the JV team saw success, as it came home with third-place honors from state.

In Hirchert's eyes, only positive things can come from future teams

"It gives us a good lead into next year for our varsity kids that our leaving and the ones to move up," he said. "Interest is high. There are lots of kids in the alley bowling leagues, too."

While West Fargo can rely on participation to fill playing spots, there also were a few specific aces who helped turn the tide in the Packers' favor. During the season, Blake Schaefer, Taylor Herzog, Jacob Skarsten, Nick Pruis, Nick Schultz and Alex Jorgenson could be counted on when the going got tough.

In all, the Packers will be losing five seniors from this year's championship team.

During the state tournament, the Packers were firing on all cylinders.

"We had several really good games, a couple 250s and our highest was 250," Hirchert said.

Coming in as the No. 1 ranked team from the East, West Fargo took on the No. 8 for the first round. They made quick work in the best-of-three matchup, winning their first two games outright.

It wasn't until the third game when they'd get the opportunity to down the Bruins.

"Of course, they were pushing us to the edge in our second match," Hirchert said. "In the first game, we took care of them pretty handily, but that second was close."

That's where Schaefer came in. He needed to complete the highly sout Turkey - three strikes in a row - to give the Packers the win.

The senior did just that.

Then, in the title bout, West Fargo beat out Williston for the win.

"We had a scary second game. We got them just barely," Hirchert said. "Some of the kids were missing their spares; it wasn't a high scoring game."

With a pair of titles from the season, there is one bit of business left for Hirchert: he'd like to use that evidence as leverage to finally get bowling sanctioned as a high school sport.

"I'm going to try to make a plea to the school here. Talk to the athletic director and feel them out a little more and see where they're at with it," he said.

So far, West Fargo Public Schools has denied sanctioning bowling through the district. They've listed several reasons for their decision, but one of the biggest is the fact that alcohol is served at the local bowling alley, Stars & Strikes.

Hirchert said this is largely a non-point, because when junior or high school events are held, all liquor sales are stopped.

And other schools have made exceptions for the sport. In fact, this year's state runner-up Williston has allowed its students to letter in bowling.

Other arguments from WFPS has been about funding, but in the case of Williston, "the school doesn't fund anything; the team funds itself," Hirchert said. West Fargo, then, could possibly run along similar lines.

Whatever happens, the Packers bowling team can rest easy knowing they went out the best way possible.

"I'm really proud of them," Hirchert said.