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Published January 27 2012

Packer power: Dangerud has helped take West Fargo wrestling to new heights

West Fargo

The quotes showed up on the walls of the West Fargo High School wrestling room on Friday.

It took months of searching, planning and a conversation with a wrestling legend to make it happen.

And the final selections, picked by Packers head coach Kayle Dangerud to provide inspiration, are the perfect fits for a program that for the first time is making an impression on the national scene.

“Practice makes perfect. I love to practice,” is painted in green on one of the walls, attributed to former Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable. Dangerud personally asked Gable for his favorite quote during a speaking engagement by the former Olympian.

“There are two kinds of pain in life: The pain of discipline and the pain of regret,” is scrawled in green on the facing wall, a quote from Olympic gold medalist Jeff Blatnick.

Practice and discipline. Working hard, leaving no regrets.

It’s been the Packers way since Dangerud took over a program that was already an Eastern Dakota Conference power under previous coach Steve Marquart.

Marquart laid some of the groundwork. Dangerud is taking things to another level.

“(Dangerud’s) intensity in the room gets us going pretty good,” said junior Preston Lehmann, who is ranked No. 12 in the nation at 182 pounds by USA Wrestling. “He just can connect with us at a different level than most coaches can with their wrestlers. He’s intense all practice, but he is also keeping us calm and relaxed, and he’s not trying to put too much pressure on us.”

There were some outside concerns when Dangerud was picked as the Packers coach in 2006. He was a West Fargo assistant for three years, but he worked in insurance outside of the high school building. He’s now going back to school to get a master’s degree in business.

Even Dangerud wondered if the lack of roaming the halls, recruiting new athletes and chatting with the members of his team might hinder the program’s progress.

“It’s still a valid question,” he said. “We’ve never let that dictate how we ran the program. I still think we would rather have eight kids who are committed and willing to put the work in, versus 100 kids that are just there to go through the motions.”

The Packers won the Class A state team title in Dangerud’s first season. They beat perennial state power Bismarck for the state dual title in 2010, with a second-place finish in the individual team race.

Last year, West Fargo was second in the individual team standings and third in the dual tournament. The Packers last season had a school-record 13 wrestlers place individually at state.

Dangerud credits Marquart, the dedication of his wrestlers, a solid youth program and a supportive group of Packers parents.

But that’s only part of it.

Dangerud has been a driving force behind this recent success.

He’s thoughtful, intense, a good motivator and he carries a pedigree that immediately garnered respect of the Packers. A two-time North Dakota Class B state champion at Hettinger (N.D.) High School, Dangerud has achieved what all of these wrestlers want to achieve.

This is most definitely Dangerud’s program.

When he steps in the room, the Packers listen. And they learn. And they work hard.

It’s the only way Dangerud will have it.

“It all starts with Kayle,” Packers junior Miles Scholl said. “He’s always had an attitude of hard work, hard work, hard work. And our assistant coaches always push us. That has really been the key factor to our success.”

West Fargo’s quick rise was aided by several things.

First, the Packers already had several top-tier athletes on the roster. Former West Fargo standout Scott Schiller earned three state titles and is now at the University of Minnesota. Freshman Jordan Shearer is already a two-time champion and junior Trevor Kringlie won a championship last season.

Two sets of Lehmann brothers transferred three years ago to West Fargo High School. Tyler Lehmann came from Apple Valley, and brother Preston came from Fargo North. Brothers Eric and Michael Lehmann, cousins of Tyler and Preston, came from Wahpeton. Tyler, Preston and Eric each earned individual state titles in their first seasons.

Anjelo Shepherd, already a two-time state champion at Fargo North, transferred to West Fargo before last season. He earned his third title with the Packers.

The additions made a great team into a juggernaut.

“I knew about the intensity here (before enrolling at West Fargo),” Preston Lehmann said. “I wanted a program that was going to make me better, and West Fargo was the best fit.”

Tyler Lehmann and Schiller, who both graduated in 2010, remain the pillars of the program. Tyler, once a University of Minnesota recruit who is now an Olympic hopeful, still helps out in the wrestling room. Schiller is 19-4 this season with the Gophers.

The presence of Schiller and Tyler Lehmann still lingers in the wrestling room.

The duo’s passion, work-ethic and intensity set the tone for the team.

Everyone on the Packers roster took notice. Now they’re all trying to emulate it.

“It’s unbelievable, really,” Scholl said. “It rubbed off on us, and it just makes us better as a whole.”

West Fargo has had high expectations placed on it since the beginning of the season. Even more attention came the Packers’ way when earlier this year it was ranked No. 40 in the nation by Amateur Wrestling News.

It’s uncharted territory for West Fargo.

However, it’s not making anyone in the program rest any easier.

“I think anybody who thinks they are at the top or about at the top is missing the point,” Dangerud said. “It doesn’t matter how good a team or person is, you can always get that much better. I don’t think these guys will ever be satisfied with how they have performed.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Heath Hotzler at (701) 241-5562.

Hotzler’s blogs can be found

at www.areavoices.com