WEST FARGO - The West Fargo wrestling team is about to enter the portion of its schedule where it will be logging high amounts of miles on the road.
The North Dakota Class A No. 1-ranked Packers are in pursuit of top competition, which means it will take to the highway often the next two months.
West Fargo is set to compete in three tournaments outside of North Dakota this season. The first of the out-of-state trips is this Friday and Saturday when the Packers compete at the 26th annual Minnesota Christmas Tournament at the University Center in Rochester, Minn.
"We think it gives us a competitive advantage for the end of the season by seeing new wrestlers, new styles and wrestling some of the best teams in the country," West Fargo head coach Kayle Dangerud said.
The Christmas tournament is an individual competition and features wrestlers from 32 teams.
The tournament's field includes all four of Minnesota's teams ranked in Intermat Wrestling's Top 50, which includes Apple Valley (fourth), St. Michael-Albertville (fifth), Simley (14th) and Kasson-Mantorville (18th). Defending Minnesota Class 1A state champion Jackson County Central will also be competing.
West Fargo (7-0, 3-0 Eastern Dakota Conference) started the season No. 50 in the Intermat rankings.
"It is really good for us as a team to see where we are at on a national level," said West Fargo sophomore Jordan Shearer who is ranked No. 1 in the state at 126 pounds. "I consider Minnesota as one of the top states in the country for wrestling, so it is good for us to go to those tournaments and get that type of competition."
After the Christmas tournament, the Packers' focus will shift to the Rumble on the Red slated for Dec. 28-29 at the Fargodome. The other two tournaments West Fargo will wrestle in are the Cheesehead Tournament Jan. 4-5 in Kaukauna, Wis. and the Lee Wolf Memorial Tournament on Jan. 26 in Aberdeen S.D.
Dangerud said West Fargo has branched out more since he first started coaching at the school. Hitting the road in the early years usually meant some learning experiences.
One of them was the Gadberry Duals in Moorhead during the 2006 season, which locked the Packers up against some of the better teams in Minnesota.
"They would beat the heck out of us," Dangerud said. "That gave us a dose of where we were at and showed us where we needed to be. The Rumble on the Red started that year, and after that we started to go to the Christmas tournament.
"We have taken a step each year. We feel that with the quality of team we have and the talented guys that work hard on the team, we can increase the workload with our schedule."
Now the Packers are road pros. The challenge the schedule presents has been embraced.
"It helps us," West Fargo senior Preston Lehmann said. "We are seeing more competition and more kids from around the country.
"It is helping us come together as a team. ... We are working harder each day in practice to get ready for the postseason and for these big tournaments. ... These next three weeks will be a grind, but having this tough of a schedule helps tenfold."
Lehmann is ranked No. 2 nationally at 182 pounds by WIN Magazine and is committed to wrestle at NCAA Division I North Dakota State next year.
The tough schedule is also designed to keep the Packers from dialing it down in regards to work ethic and intensity.
"We want our guys to wrestle well fundamentally and not get into bad habits," Dangerud said. "When you have this kind of a schedule, you can't have those bad habits because it will cost you. Hopefully keeping the competitive schedule will force us to wrestle solid and increase our intensity."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562