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Packers expect improved defense will lead to more wins

West Fargo girls basketball coach Mike Benson addresses his team during practice at West Fargo High. David Samson / The Forum

The 2017-18 season was a learning experience for everyone involved with the West Fargo girls basketball program.

In his first year as a Varsity Head Coach, Mike Benson oversaw a highly inexperienced roster that was routinely overmatched by the more veteran teams of the Eastern Dakota Conference. As a result, the Packers lost 13 of their final 17 games and eventually limped to an 8-16 finish.

But if experience, be it good or bad, is the greatest teacher, Benson says there's definitely reason for optimism entering this season.

"We return about 90 percent of our scoring and a lot of our minutes are back," he said. "That was a big thing last year that we only had a handful of players with varsity experience. So it'll be huge coming into this year with a lot of kids that have played the varsity game."

Though they didn't enjoy a heavy dosage of losing, West Fargo players share Benson's belief that they are now much better suited for varsity play.

"Everybody gets the flow of the game a little better now," junior guard McKenna Becher said. (Last year) was a lot of getting the pace of the game down. I think as a whole we're more prepared."

Becher is hoping those preparations help her take a major step forward after a promising sophomore campaign, where she finished third in the EDC with 15.7 points per game, while also averaging a team-high 6.4 rebounds.

Becher is likely to get plenty of offensive help from senior backcourt mate Grace Faiman, who was fifth in the EDC with 39 made 3-pointers a year ago.

Inside, two players who didn't see any high school action a season ago look to add a needed punch to a Packer team that struggled with interior defense and rebounding.

Six-foot, 2-inch senior Mariah Schatz is back, and coaches and players say they've seen little lingering impact from the torn ACL that cost her her entire junior season.

Also turning heads in the post has been 5-11 eighth grader Chloe Pfau, who Faiman says has been "playing at a level that a middle schooler probably shouldn't be playing."

Benson says he has little concern regarding his team's ability to score, saying the biggest obstacle will be making strides with a defense that allowed 65 or more points 13 times during the 17-18 season.

If those improvements happen, he believes these Packers can do more than merely take incremental steps forward.

"I expect us to compete for a state spot," Benson said. "That's our goal, to be a state-tournament type team. If we can get some stops and get some rebounds, (then) have that flow into our offense, I'm real excited for this team."

Such aspirations are easy for Benson's players to get behind.

"I think (state is) a good goal," Faiman said. "I think we'll reach it."