WEST FARGO — The seniors on the West Fargo Packers softball team won’t need to rush home after the North Dakota Class A state tournament finale in Mandan on Saturday to make it to graduation Sunday.
The Packers won’t get the chance to vie for their 22nd state softball title or have a senior season.
Playing on varsity together since they were freshmen, it’ll be captains Mariah Peters’, Tori Nichols-Kraft’s and Macy Weible's first spring in three years not prepping for state, which would’ve been days away on May 28-30.
“There definitely was just a couple tears shed, thinking of not being able to get out on that field one last time,” Nichols-Kraft said. “But in the end we had to look at the bigger picture.”
The trio that has played together for almost a decade were sophomores when the Packers, the reigning state champs, had their streak of 20 straight state titles snapped. The squad thinks they could’ve made a run for another championship this season.
“It stinks looking at it and thinking that we’d be at state next weekend,” Weible said. “It really stinks, it does. But I mean, we can't do anything about it. I know as a team, we would have loved to make it to state and play in state.”
“Usually during tournament season, I come home from practice tired because this is the hardest time,” Nichols-Kraft said. “You’re pushing yourself, you want to do your best, but then you’re also sitting at home and you’re giddy. Now you don’t necessarily have that to look forward to.”
Ever since Peters, who will be headed to the University of North Dakota in the fall to play softball, was a freshman, she wanted to be the senior role model who she looked up to as an underclassmen — the one that led her team to a state title and in general.
“Every year I feel like the seniors set a standard that’s always met. Being a senior role model is what I was looking forward to,” Peters said. “I was looking forward to playing with all the girls on my team. We would’ve had a really tight bond and had a lot of fun on the field.”
May 1 was tough for Weible, when the North Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors decided to cancel all spring sports seasons.
“I didn't think last year would’ve been the last year that I got to play with them,” Weible said. “I was really upset, because I've been playing with these girls since we were seven. I feel for the seniors that aren’t playing anywhere next year. I’m lucky enough to be playing somewhere next year, but it still stinks that I won’t be able to play with these girls.”
The senior captains are all playing college ball — second baseman Weible at Division III Wisconsin Lutheran College, Nichols-Kraft at DIII University of Minnesota Morris and Peters for the Fighting Hawks.
“Being able to go on and play helps,” Peters said. “I’m super grateful. It was always a dream of mine when I was a kid, to play Division I softball. And being from North Dakota, it’s not common to go and do that.”
Instead of a spring high school season to help prepare for the Division I jump, Peters, an outfielder and catcher, has had to adjust her training. As of now, it’s been a lot of individual stuff, working out and hitting in her garage.
“It’s something that we’re going to have to work through, adjust to and make the most of it,” Peters said. “I want to make sure I’m ready for UND and at the best of my ability when I get up there.”
Luckily, a lot of the girls are playing on summer teams that haven’t had schedules fully axed yet. Weible's team has had a few tournaments already canceled, and the remainder are up in the air.
For months now, the team had open gyms once a week, which was essentially a captains’ practice. A handful of the players were in the weight room everyday, and a few would go hit in some of the cages.
“I was definitely looking forward to just seeing my team grow,” Nichols-Kraft said. “Knowing that I won't be able to play my last high school season with all the girls, I don’t know if it totally has clicked yet or if it’s still kind of just there.”
The team lost a good chunk of seniors last year, and Nichols-Kraft, who plays third base and pitcher, saw some of the younger players stepping up.
“You could tell it was a different mentality there, that we were all focused and we wanted to strive,” Nichols-Kraft said. “We knew what our goal was when we were there and we kept it in the back of our heads.”