West Fargo, N.D. vs. Chanhassen

(Two-game series)

2 p.m., Friday, April 26 and 

11 a.m., Saturday, April 27

In the summer of 2016, Joe Coenen was on top of the Minnesota softball world. He had just guided his Chanhassen squad, stocked with three Division I-bound pitchers, to the Class 4A state championship.

But he was not worry-free.

In North Dakota, Pat Johnson's West Fargo squad put another title notch in its belt and remained the only state high school league-sanctioned Class A champion ever. He, too, had his worries.

It's not, after all, easy to be king. Especially in sport, where a team's edge is best-honed with strong competition.

Enter Chanhassen assistant Wes Goetz, who got to know Johnson when he was on the football coaching staff at West Fargo in the 1980s. He suggested Coenen schedule the Packers for a nonconference game the next spring.

Coenen did, and after Chanhassen scratched out a first-inning run and held on for a hard-fought 1-0 victory over the Packers.

Softball fans get two opportunities next week to experience the amping up of this friendly rivalry between one of Minnesota's best and one of North Dakota's best when they meet Friday and Saturday, making this two-fer our Top Game(s) of the Week.

The teams will not meet as defending state champions this spring. Chanhassen, despite winning 72 of 82 games from 2015-17, has just the one state title. West Fargo lost in the first round of last spring's North Dakota state tournament and saw its state championship streak end at 20 years.

But both teams are young and talented and, as usual, loaded with pitching.

Chanhassen's Sydney Schwartz, a freshman, is already one of the metro area's best pitchers and getting better. She pitched in five varsity games last year, recording 40 strikeouts in 37 innings and a 5-0 record.

Schwartz threw a one-hitter with 13 strikeouts in the Storm's (1-0, 0-0) season-opening 10-1 victory at Buffalo on April 9.

West Fargo, which opened its season with an 11-5 victory at Thief River Falls and a 10-2 victory at Badger-Greenbush-Middle River, counters with two strong pitchers with different styles.

Junior Tori Nichols-Kraft throws hard and senior Courtney Boll throws with pinpoint accuracy, Johnson said.

"They'll be the favorites, and that's OK," Johnson said of this year's games. "It doesn't matter if we get beat; we're out to get better."

It's just the type of game both coaches, in June 2016, worried they wouldn't get enough of.

-- Second game to follow on Saturday