When looking back at the 2018 preseason poll, it's easy to conclude that the West Fargo girls cross country team was underrated.
Entering the season unranked, a balanced Packer squad has recently climbed to the No. 2 spot in Class A, a position they've held onto for several weeks.
But if you think West Fargo's rise up the rankings is the result of coaches using the perceived slight as motivation tool, Coach Brad Amundson is quick to shoot down those theories.
"The poll ultimately doesn't mean anything," he said. "And that's the biggest thing we tell the girls all the time. The coaches' ranks are difficult to go off of entering the season because you kind of have to look at previous year's results and kind of see who's gone and just estimate from there.
"It's nice to be ranked, but it doesn't tell us what's going to happen at state."
And how was this team able to nudge its way to the No. 2 spot?
"Coaches think we're running well," he said. "That's where it's coming from."
Amundson says a major reason the Packers are running well is a commitment to a "pack mentality," relying on superior depth instead of dominant individual finishes, and producing a high ranking for a team without a single runner in the individual top-10 rankings.
West Fargo's depth was on full display in a dominant win at the 26-team Jamestown Invitational Sept. 29. The Packers won going away with a score of 35, on a day when no other team scored below 100. The top-five West Fargo racers that day all finished 14th or better. Only one other team put three runners in the top-20.
"Everyone has a major impact on the team, no matter where they are on the roster," said junior Hope Pringle, the top Packer runner who placed second at Jamestown.
Though Amundson doesn't put much stock in polls, he acknowledges the lone team ranked above his is more than deserving of its spot.
While they've handled their business against most all Class A opponents, the Packers are the rest of the Eastern Dakota Conference continue to look up at Fargo Davies, the two-time defending state champions who will enter as the overwhelming favorite to win the EDC race this Saturday.
The Eagles flexed their championship muscle at Saturday's Grand Forks Invitational, placing five runners in the top-10 to win with a score of 26, 64 points better than runner-up Grand Forks Central and 70 better than the Packers, who placed third.
Despite having already faced the Eagles multiple times this season, West Fargo runners say it can still be intimidating to go up against such a decorated foe. And while some would view intimidation as a negative emotion to feel when racing a top-flight opponent, one Packer runner says such feelings can be used to the team's advantage.
"I think you try to use the nerves in a good way," said junior Emily Hansen. "At the line or during the race (when) you see them and think 'oh, they're really good' believe in yourself and use the nerves as energy to push yourself to race with them."
Feeling good about the strides they've made, Hansen and her teammates say they're ready to face their toughest opponent under the postseason spotlight.
"Physically we are really close to them," Hansen said. "Believing in ourselves is just the next step that we have to get to. Realistically I do think we have a shot competing with them."
The EDC race begins at noon Saturday at the Lincoln Park Golf Course in Grand Forks. The state race will be run in Jamestown on Oct. 27.