The 2018 season couldn't have gone much better for the West Fargo boys soccer team.
Not only did the Packers capture their fourth state championship since 2010, they did so in record-setting fashion.
West Fargo scored a program-record 79 goals last year, with Daniel Collins scoring a single-season record 31 of them. Teamed with the program's all-time leading scorer Telvin Vah, Collins gave the Packer offense an almost lethal edge.
The defense was nearly as impressive, with goalie Tommy Klein and standout defensive stopper Jarin Entzi leading a unit that pitched three consecutive shutouts in the state tournament.
Things look a bit different entering this season, as Collins, Vah, Klein and Entzi were among the 12 seniors West Fargo lost to graduation.
With such significant departures, some may forgive coach James Moe if he were to lower his expectations a bit this fall. Moe, however, isn't entertaining such talks.
“We don’t rebuild," he said. "We’ve got talent here. I don’t believe in taking a year off and saying we’re not contenders.”
Packer players share this confidence, saying they have the right man steering the ship.
"We lost a lot of good players, but we have a good coach," junior midfielder Nuradin Musa said. "That's going to help us."
Musa, who had 13 goals and six assists last year, is likely to be the top option for a team that lost nearly 75 percent of its 2018 scoring. Moe is also hoping to lean on senior striker Enoch Gartei, who had four goals and six assists a season ago.
With so many new pieces to plug in, Moe doesn't expect to have one dominant scoring option, but believes his team can thrive with a committee approach.
“I think it’s going to be a variety of guys," he said. "We’re going to have three, four guys who score seven or eight goals and I think we can do that.”
Defensively, Moe will look to lean on returning players like Om Dahal. The veteran coach has yet to name a starting goalie, and no keeper on the Packer roster currently has any varsity experience.
Even if expectations remain high, both players and coaches aren't expecting the Packers to pick right up from the end of the 2018 season.
Moe acknowledges it may take time for some young players to develop "the killer attitude" needed to compete at the highest level. Gartei took it one step further, saying "Right now, I don't think we're actually that good" and that it would take "a few weeks" to get where they need to be.
But for a program that hasn't missed the state tournament since 2008, a definitive baseline for expectations has been set.
“I’m really, really sure right now, we’re going to make state," Gartei said. "That’s our goal, to make state, no matter what. I know we lost a lot of players but I know we’re going to be good.”
"We might have some slip ups throughout the season, but...we can compete with anybody," Moe added. "(Our players) want to win, they want to continue to say West Fargo’s one of the top teams in the state.
"Their goal is my goal and if that’s the attitude they want to come in (with), I’m going to push them to win every single game.”
The Packers begin their title defense this Saturday in an invitational at the Jamestown Rotary Soccer Field.