Mike Benson runs a drill with the West Fargo girls basketball team in which the Packers play with 15 seconds on the shot clock rather than 30. The first-year head coach thinks it's more fun for the players and should motivate them on defense.
The Packers will begin this season playing just one returner with varsity experience. Callyn Johnson, the lone returner with varsity experience who will play to start the season, said Benson is fun, personable and smart.
"We're a young team with inexperience, but we're ready to go," Benson said. "We have a lot of kids who are excited to come in and work hard."
The Packers were fifth in the Eastern Dakota Conference regular season last year and lost twice in the East Region tournament. They lost a senior class that included Akealy Moton and Gabby DuBois. Moton, now playing for the University of North Dakota, led the Eastern Dakota Conference with 25.8 points per game to go with 8.5 rebounds per game. DuBois, now playing for Bemidji State, totaled 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Johnson said the Packers will miss the leadership of Moton and DuBois most of all. She said she's ready to step up and become more vocal as a leader herself.
Johnson, a guard, averaged 6.6 points, 1.4 assists and 1.4 rebounds per game last season. She said the Packers should be more well-rounded as scoring threats rather than dependent on points from one or two places.
"Teams aren't expecting us," Johnson said. "We'll be the underdog. Teams will have to stop all of us."
The Packers return two more players with varsity experience, but they're both injured and won't play to start the season. Mariah Schatz tore her ACL last summer. Benson hopes she'll play by the end of the season.
Morgan Foss, who averaged 5.3 points, two assists and 3.3 rebounds per game last year, broke her ankle last summer. After healing during the fall, she broke her ankle again she estimates five minutes into the first basketball practice of the year. She hopes to be back by the East Region tournament.
As a senior, Foss knows the team will be much different this year and hopes to become a role model even before she comes back.
"We'll definitely have to change our style of playing from last year. That's obvious," Foss said. "I'm excited for that leadership role."
Johnson said the Packers will have a different mentality with Benson as head coach. Benson is more defensive minded, Johnson said, and he wants the Packers to play with a run-and-gun style and a higher tempo.
Foss said the Packers will have to be more aggressive especially on defense.
"We're going to have to be a lot quicker. We obviously don't have the height we had last year," Foss said. "We'll have to have a quick style and that aggressive Packer mentality that everybody knows. They're not going to want to play us."
Benson admits the Packers will be young but he is excited. He's coached at multiple schools in the area, but wanted this job. Benson, who graduated from West Fargo, wanted to be back with the Packers and hopes this year's girls team makes the state tournament just like he's used to seeing.
"The program is built off this mentality where we're willing to work hard and willing to do what it takes," Benson said. "I want to continue to do that."
West Fargo Packers girls basketball
Coach: Mike Benson (first year)
Last year's finish: 16-5 record, lost in East Region tournament consolation semifinals
Who's gone: Akealy Moton, Gabby Dubois
Key returners: Morgan Foss, Sr., G; Callyn Johnson, Jr., G.