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Cunningham: Celebrating the best of my first fall in West Fargo

West Fargo's Daniel Collins (right) goes after a loose ball in a Sept. 11 match against Shanley. Collins scored 31 goals en route to being named the Pioneer's best male athlete for the Fall of 2018. File photo.1 / 2
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As quickly as it came, my first fall covering sports for the Pioneer has come to a close.

And while the season's contests are over, the memories of them will live on. Specifically, they'll live on here, in this column I've written chronicling what I believe to be the best teams, athletes and moments to come from the West Fargo prep scene over the past three-and-a-half months.

As I'm sure was made abundantly clear by the wretched prose of the paragraphs above, I'm horrendous at writing intros for pieces such as this. So in an effort to spare myself further embarrassment, let's just jump into the proceedings, shall we?

Best team: West Fargo boys soccer

Not really starting out with a difficult choice here. While there were numerous good teams to choose from, the Packer boys soccer squad is clearly deserving of top honors, as it was the only one from the area to bring home a state title.

Anchored by an offense that scored a program record 71 goals, West Fargo also got plenty of support from a defense that pitched three consecutive postseason shutouts. As a result, the Packers brought home their fourth state crown in school history, three of which have been won since 2014.

Best male athlete: Daniel Collins, West Fargo boys soccer

Securing the services of Collins, who came to the United States from Liberia last winter, for his senior year of high school was an absolute game changer for a Packer team that was already entering the 2018 season on the short list of state championship contenders.

An offense many expected to be good was consistently unstoppable with the addition of Collins, who paced the record-setting scoring attack with a landmark season of his own, scoring a single-season, school-record 31 goals.

Collins' excellence even resulted in two planned categories—Best game and Best moment—being scrapped and condensed into this one as a space-saving measure. The winning moment came with just 2 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the top game, when Collins broke free from two defenders and kicked home the only goal of a 1-0 state championship-game win over Fargo Davies.

Best female athlete: Maggie Manson, West Fargo Sheyenne girls golf

Despite being a serious front-runner to eventually capture this award again (provided this column continues into the winter), the University of North Dakota basketball recruit's success on the golf course this fall was too much to overlook.

Manson followed up a third-place finish at the 2017 Class A State Tournament with a runner-up performance this fall. Tied for the lead after the tournament's first day, the Mustang senior ended up with a two-day score of 154.

The state performance followed an impressive showing at the East Regional, where she and Red River's Lily Bredemeier each shattered the Maple River Golf Club Course record, seeing the lead change hands four times on the back-nine before Bredemeier eventually won by a stroke.

Biggest surprise: West Fargo volleyball

Following a state tournament semifinal loss to Mandan, sophomore hitter Erin Binstock said she was irritated by preseason suggestions that 2018 would be a rebuilding year for the Packers.

However, in the same conversation, she also said "I probably would have been surprised to see us" at the state tournament, suggesting even those in the locker room viewed a state run as a sign this team was a year ahead of schedule.

But not only did West Fargo, which had to win a play-in game just to get into the East Region Tournament, qualify for state, it got there as the No. 1 seed, following wins over the East's top-three teams from the regular season. This run was highlighted by a 3-0 championship-game upset of a Fargo Davies team that hadn't lost a conference match all year.

The Packers then opened state with a thrilling five-set win over Jamestown, before settling for fourth place following losses to Mandan and Davies.

Luckily for Binstock and her teammates, the word "rebuilding" isn't one they'll be hearing in the coming years, as senior hitter Mariah Schatz is the only starter who won't be returning to the Packers next season.

Best story: Sheyenne's year of firsts

While at times overshadowed by the Packers' postseason accomplishments, the Mustangs weren't hurting for compelling storylines in what was unquestionably the best fall in the school's short history of varsity sports.

Behind a dominant defense and balanced scoring attack, the Mustang football team ran the table in the EDC, winning its first ever conference championship. The Sheyenne girls swim team also brought home a first conference title, finishing a whopping 104 points ahead of the field at the EDC Tournament.

After falling one game short four years in a row, the Mustang volleyball team finally broke through for its first appearance in the state tournament, going 2-1 to capture a fifth-place finish.

It was also a year of new successes on the cross country course, where the Mustang boys earned their first team and individual (Jacob Knodle) wins during the Hatton-Northwood-Larimore Invitational in August. Knodle then became the first male runner to capture All-State honors at Sheyenne, taking seventh at the Oct. 27 state race in Jamestown.

I'm bad at outros too. See you in the winter.

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