The Minnesota State High School League recently announced the competitive section assignments for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years. The MSHSL reevaluates schools every two years and adjusts the sections for changes in enrollment and the addition or deletion of a program or cooperative agreement between schools. In the reassignments, the MSHSL tries to move as few schools as possible and to stay within certain geographic regions.
So what does this mean for the athletic teams at Waconia High School? For most, the section changes are minimal, with the addition or deletion of a few teams. For some, like the WHS girls’ swim or volleyball teams, nothing changes.
The teams most affected are boys’ and girls’ basketball, by far. The boys’ basketball team, having spent the last two seasons in Section 2AAA with Dassel-Cokato, Hutchinson, Mankato East, Mankato West, Marshall, New Ulm, and Willmar, will now compete in Section 6AAA with the likes of Holy Angels, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Blake, Holy Family, Minneapolis Washburn, Mound-Westonka, and Richfield.
For the Wildcat boys, Section 6 is a home away from home, as the team competed in the section from 2003-2005 and 2008-2011.
“We are familiar with many of those teams and traditionally it has been one of the toughest sections in AAA for many years,” WHS head coach Pat Hayes said. “The biggest difference from sections will be the teams that are seeded from 1-8 will be very competitive in all games.”
This season was a prime example of the equality of competition between all the seeds, as No. 2 Blake played No. 5 Holy Family for the section title.
The girls’ basketball team, which has competed in Section 6AAA the last two years, will stay in 6AAA, but will see the departure of Orono and Chaska, to be replaced by Blake and Minneapolis Washburn.
All WHS spring sports remain in the same sections next season, with minimal changes. For instance, the golf teams, already competing challenging Section 2AAA, will also see Edina and Richfield on top of the current competitors.
The basketball teams were hardest hit at Mayer Lutheran too, as the two Crusader squads will jump from Section 5 to Section 2 in Class AA. For the boys, three of the four 2013 section semifinal teams are now gone: Annandale, St. Cloud Cathedral, and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (Mayer Lutheran being the fourth). In Section 2AAA, the Crusaders will now face six of the eight Minnesota River Conference teams (all but Watertown-Mayer), along with Glencoe-Silver Lake, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Maple River, Medford, New Richland-H-E-G, Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, St. Peter, Waseca, and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.
The Mayer Lutheran girls’ basketball team is making the same section shift as their male counterparts, with just Glencoe-Silver Lake and Jordan moving from Section 5 to Section 2 with the Crusaders. The section will be Minnesota River Conference-heavy, which is positive for head coach Kris Gustin, as the Crusaders will be familiar with those teams.
“The bad news is we will likely be in the north half, with probably all of the conference teams,” he said. “This means someone will have to beat two, and perhaps three, conference teams to get to the section finals. The subsection could be almost like a conference tournament.”
In the move, the Crusaders leave behind three-time state participants Providence Academy, only to gain New Richland-H-E-G, a team that not only will want to defend their 2013 state championship, but will return nearly all their players, are already favored to repeat as state champs, and include a favorite for the 2013-14 Ms. Basketball award in Carlie Wagner.
“I guess you have to beat the best to be the best,” Gustin said.
In dance, Mayer Lutheran head coach Maryann Porter is very happy to see that Aitkin and Duluth Marshall, two teams that have dominated the section every year, are no longer in Section 2A. In their wake, Concordia Academy-Roseville and Randolph will join. With the section more centralized, the Crusaders will be able to compete more frequently with section schools during the regular season.
“I also hope to see a better metro representative at state in Class A, now that Aitkin and Duluth Marshall are back up with the other northern schools,” she said. “We see so many metro teams in both Class AA and AAA and we (Mayer Lutheran) have been the only metro team in Class A for the past two years.”
But perhaps the biggest change of all comes for the LHS football team, who will move from Class AA to Class A and join Section 2. Kimball Area is the only team the Crusaders will be familiar with, as the Cubs are also moving. The new section for LHS includes: Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, Kerkoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, and Minneapolis North Community.
For LHS head coach Dean Aurich, “being in Class A is probably okay,” because school enrollment has dropped in the last few years, while the team has also gotten smaller. Last season, the Crusaders had just over 30 kids out for the team, and Aurich expects the same this season.
“When you have 75 out, which we did years ago, you can take an injury here or there and stay steady,” he said.
But with small numbers, injuries simply cannot happen, as was the case in last season’s state quarterfinal game, when LHS lost three players and the game.
When the Minnesota River Conference football schedule kicks up in the fall, LHS will be the only Class A team competing, while the rest of the schools are either AA or AAA.
“That’s going to be a real challenge,” Aurich said.
The section won’t be any easier. In 2012, ACGC and BBE battled for the section title, with ACGC advancing into the state semifinals. Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity was also favored to do well in the section. All three schools have very dominant junior classes coming back next year, Aurich said. And while it would probably have been a battle between Mayer Lutheran and Maple Lake for the AA state tournament berth, as it has been in many years passed, Class A could pose more of a challenge.
“We believe the section might be a little tougher to win in Class A than AA this year,” he said.
Contact Melissa Marohl at [email protected]