The West Fargo boys soccer team will be playing with a chip on its shoulder this season.
After winning the North Dakota state championship in 2016, the Packers fell to Fargo Davies in the semifinals last year. Davies defeated West Fargo 2-1 in a 3-0 shootout.
"We lost in a pretty crappy way, lost in (penalty kicks) shootout last year," senior forward and captain Lucas Simon said. "No one likes to lose like that, so we're going to come out pretty strong."
West Fargo finished the 2017 season with a 13-5-2 overall record. To win tight games this season, Packers head coach James Moe said the team has to play better down the stretch.
"Closing out games is going to important," Moe said. "When we do have those games, we have to be better than last year."
West Fargo opens play with an August 18 doubleheader against Minot and Bismarck Legacy, respectively, at a tournament in Jamestown.
The Packers are an experienced team, returning several upperclassmen. Simon, Telvin Vah, Tommy Klein, Yussuf Mohamed, Jarin Entzi, Zach Milbrandt and Ben Knudson headline the senior group. Enoch Gartei and Sabiti Morisho are the notable juniors on the varsity squad.
Moe said the Packers should stack up well against the other teams in the Eastern Dakota Conference.
"The guys look good," Moe said. "We're a team that can compete with anybody. We have guys that can score so I think there are high expectations from the guys themselves."
The narrative around the team is it will have a high-powered offense with a deep bench. Moe said the Packers main strengths are attacking from inside midfield, speed and technical skills with many players who can step up and contribute.
Moe would like to see the team improve on the other side of the ball.
"In the second half of (last) season we started getting soft defensively, so as a whole we need to get better on defense and finish stronger than last year," Moe said.
Simon, who has several years of varsity experience, said West Fargo's identity is a team that works hard and stays together. He tries setting an example for his teammates through his work ethic.
"This is my fourth year now, so I think I know West Fargo pretty well and I know the guys pretty well," Simon said. "And if they can just look at me and see what I'm doing, they can just copy that and hopefully they'll get better off me."
He is setting the bar high for the Packers.
"I think we should do pretty well," Simon said. "I think we'll finish first or second in the EDC, hopefully first. Then when state happens, I think we should have a good shot at winning it all."
Last season: fourth at state
Who's gone: Noah Schaeffer, Mohamed Hamza, Jewan Manger
Key returners: Lucas Simon, Sr., Telvin Vah, Sr., Tommy Klein, Sr., Yussuf Mohamed, Sr., Jarin Entzi, Sr., Zach Milbrandt, Sr., Ben Knudson, Sr., Enoch Gartei, Jr., Sabiti Morisho, Jr.