West Fargo girls basketball team showing its veteran presence with 7-2 start to season
With five returning starters including two All-State selections, the Packers are hopeful this is the year their state tournament drought comes to an end.
WEST FARGO — If the West Fargo girls basketball team’s two-point loss to Fargo Davies on Tuesday night means anything, it’s that the Eastern Dakota Conference is shaping up to have some strong competition once again this season.
The Packers are very much aware of that fact and despite returning an array of talent from last season, the team knows no game will come easy.
“We’re just trying to take it one game at a time and get better every day,” West Fargo head coach Mike Benson said.
The team lost just four seniors in the off-season and returned an experienced starting five, perhaps none more experienced than All-EDC and All-State selections Chloe Pfau and Miriley Simon.
Pfau is in her fifth season as a starter and Simon is in her fourth. Brylie Peterson is in her third season as a starter and Solveig Seymour and Taylor Van Winkle are in their second years as starters, Benson said.
Simon is a senior forward and led the EDC in scoring and rebounding last season with an average of 22.5 points and 11.9 boards per game. With the Packers off to a 7-2 start, the North Dakota State recruit said the season is going as well as it can so far.
“I think we’re just playing good team basketball right now,” Simon said. “We’ve got a lot of players making shots for us right now so that’s good for us.”
Individually, Simon is off and running again this season, averaging 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Through nine games, she’s recorded five double-doubles.
Simon isn’t the only one contributing either. Pfau, who committed to UMary, is averaging 14.3 points while Peterson is averaging 10.7 and Seymour is averaging 10.4.
“I think we’ve improved a lot in the off-season,” Simon said. “We’ve got a couple of players scoring in double figures which really helps us in these games.”
Pfau is in her senior season at guard and carries the best field goal percentage in the conference at 56.4 percent. Peterson, a junior guard, is shooting 51.6 percent and also averages 3.8 assists per game. Van Winkle, a senior guard, leads the EDC in assists with an average of 7.4 per game while Seymour, also a senior guard, remains one of the best range shooters in the state with an average of 3.2 triples per game.
Combining those statistics with contributions up and down the bench and the Packers currently have the best scoring offense in the East Region.
“I’ve seen a lot of my teammates step up and that’s great to see,” Pfau said. “Especially Taylor. Seeing how much work she put in and starting to be successful is really great to see and makes playing a lot more fun.”
Benson said he has been pleased with the improvement he’s seen in each of his players from last season to the next and even more pleased to have a healthy squad this time around. Van Winkle and Pfau both missed significant time in 2021-22.
“We’ve got more people who can score the ball right now which is what we struggled with a little bit last year,” Benson said. “Taylor got hurt last year and missed five games and I mean — three weeks is a big chunk of the season — so we were scrambling with that a little bit. Chloe for total points last year was our third-leading scorer — even playing 15 less games than everybody. So that kind of shows you where we were at with where our scoring was coming from.
“This year, we’ve got four girls who are almost averaging double figures and Taylor is just under nine points per game. We’ve got multiple ways we can attack you. Chloe and Taylor are great defenders and Brylie has really stepped her game up this year as well.”
Benson also said the team benefits from luxury of having leaders such as Pfau and Simon as well as a long-range scoring threat like Seymour.
“When you look at two players as good as (Pfau and Simon) are, you wonder what they can keep getting better at,” Benson said. “The thing we missed last year with Chloe particularly — other than her ability on the floor — was her leadership. And Miriley is just so steady. You get her the ball and you know she’s going to make a great play and she’s really improved her defensive efforts this year. Chloe is getting back to where she was last year as an All-State player and she’s the ultimate teammate. She makes everybody better.
“Solveig, our nickname for her is ‘gunslinger.’ She could go down as one of the best shooters to ever play at West Fargo and she’s probably one of the best 3-point shooters I’ve ever coached. Even when she’s not making shots, what it does is it spaces the floor for everybody else to make some plays.”
West Fargo went 17-7 last season with a fourth-place finish in the EDC standings, hopeful they’d return to the Class A state tournament for the first time since 2016.
Unfortunately for the Packers, it wasn’t meant to be. West Fargo fell to Davies in the EDC tournament semifinals before losing a heartbreaker to Wahpeton in a state qualifying game the following day.
“We definitely think about it every day,” Simon said. “It gives us motivation and we’re just ready to make sure to do it this year.”
“It wasn’t the way we wanted to end our season,” Pfau added. “We just wanted to get to state, so that’s something we keep on our minds every game and every practice.”
The team’s only two losses this year have come at the hands of defending state champion and fourth-ranked Minot and a strong-looking fifth-ranked Eagles team earlier this week. The Packers will host second-ranked and undefeated Grand Forks Red River on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., a crucial game that will surely play a part in determining postseason seeding.
“That Red River game is a two-pointer,” Benson said. “Whoever wins that one very well could be in a really good position for the No. 1 seed (in the EDC tournament) and if you get the No. 1 seed, it’s a lot easier than getting the No. 2 or No. 3 seed.”
Does West Fargo have what it takes to punch their ticket to state this time around? Benson is hopeful.
“I sure hope so,” Benson said. “We were hopeful last year and then we had those devastating injuries. I think there’s no question that we’ve got a veteran team and we’ve got some kids that are really, really good."