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home : columns : columns April 29, 2016

2/13/2013 9:40:00 AM
It takes two to tango when schedule is involved

Joel Alvstad
Sports Editor

It's often said that high school sports teams get better by playing the best schedule possible.
But to make that schedule challenging, it takes cooperation on the part of all involved, and it may take some last-minute adjustments.
In the case of the Windom-Mt. Lake wrestling team, the schedule was made to work. When it was announced that the Cobras would be dropping down from Class AA to Class A, Cobra Coach Brad Schlomann and Windom Activities Director Sheryl Hanefeld went to work.
Many of the dual meets against former Section 3AA rivals were gone. In its place was a schedule that still had the team's Southwest and Red Rock Conference rivals, but was loaded with Section 4A opponents and highly-regarded state Class A competition.
The Cobras will enter the Section 4A team tournament Thursday with a losing record, but with a bit of quiet confidence. The team has prided itself on peaking at the right time. With a three-point loss to unbeaten Wabasso-Red Rock Central last Tuesday, the Cobras showed they could be a darkhorse to throw an upset in the section.
While it would seem that the schedule-makers in wrestling are more open to facing section competition, that isn't the case in every sport.
In fact, when the section seedings come out for one sport in particular, don't be surprised if you see a lot of teams with losing records occupying some of the higher seeds.
In boys hockey, the vast majority of Section 3A consists of what some may consider "new blood." By that, I mean varsity hockey programs that have been playing high school hockey for 15 years or less. Most of these are the Southwest Conference schools or teams that made the transition from Jr. Gold to high school.
And on the other end of the spectrum, there are the old traditional programs - teams that have been playing considerably longer and have established traditions of winning hockey.
This season is really the first season when the new guard has largely better records than the old guard programs. Southwest Conference teams Luverne, Marshall and Windom Area all have records above .500. New Ulm, Litchfield and Hutchinson all have sub-.500 records.
But the problem is that there is no way of measuring the teams comparitively. New Ulm, Hutchinson and Litchfield have largely and steadfastly refused to put Southwest Conference teams on the schedule.
Historically, New Ulm has only played Marshall from the Southwest Conference. Hutchinson and Litchfield have only scheduled games with Marshall and Luverne.
The argument that is made by the old powers is that the caliber of the new programs hasn't been on par with the non-conference competition they can get elsewhere. And that may be a valid point.
But for the sake of having a sure measuring stick for the section, teams from the section need to schedule other teams from the section.
So when Windom has two or possibly three sub-.500 teams seeded ahead of it in the section, or a sub-.500 team that refuses to play half of the section teams gets the number-one seed, now you know why.
Building starts early
Part of the impression that the competition in the Southwest Conference is weaker could have to do with the lower level programs.
A big reason why Luverne's program has seen a rapid climb to credibility is because its youth programs all play at the 'A' level, against the best opponents other programs have to offer.
A simple glance at the trophy case in the Windom Arena shows much of the success by Windom's youth programs has been at the 'B' level, and I can't imagine Windom's numbers would allow for both 'A' and 'B' teams at most levels. However, in larger programs (like, for example, New Ulm), the top-tier players play at the 'A' level, while the developing, lesser-skilled players are at the 'B' level.
A transition from 'B' hockey to 'A' hockey certainly wouldn't be easy as far as the immediate won-loss record is concerned. But if the ultimate goal is a varsity program with credibility with section and state opponents, it's something that the Hockey Association should give serious thought to, if it hasn't already done so.
After all, Luverne started its varsity program around the same year Windom did. Since then, they've been to the section semifinals almost yearly and were a section finalist last year. Windom has yet to qualify for the section semifinals.

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