It's pretty hard to believe, but fall is almost here - at least, for high school athletes. The fall sports season begins in earnest on Monday with the first practices of the season. The start of the fall sports season is always one of my favorite times of the entire year. After a couple of months out of the limelight, it's always exciting to see who will step up to the challenge during the new season. The area fall sports coaching scene only has one change in the immediate area. Westbrook-Walnut Grove's volleyball program no longer has co-head coaches after Mark Takle stepped down last fall. Jessica Laleman takes over the program after serving a year as co-coach. The first day of practice schedules for area teams appears elsewhere in this section. Believe it or not, the first competitions for area teams is scheduled for Aug. 24, when Windom and Mt. Lake Area open the volleyball season. Windom plays at Fulda while MLA plays at Sleepy Eye St. Mary's. Westbrook-Walnut Grove opens on Aug. 28 hosting Edgerton in Westbrook, with Red Rock Central opening a day later at Springfield. The MLA cross country team opens its season Aug. 25 in Fairmont. Windom opens its season Aug. 30 in Mt. Lake. For football, Windom opens its season Sept. 1, taking on Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop in Winthrop. MLA opens Aug. 31 against MACCRAY in Maynard. RRC opens Aug. 31 against Edgerton-Ellsworth in Edgerton. WWG opens Aug. 31, hosting Fulda in Westbrook. Schedule changes The biggest change on the local sports scene is in football, as the 9-Man South District has been overhauled. The district went from 20 teams up to 28 teams. New teams in the district include RRC, Renville County West, Sleepy Eye St. Mary's, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, MACCRAY, Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart, Cedar Mountain-Comfrey and Mankato Loyola. Of those, RRC, St. Mary's, RTR, CMC and Loyola are all dropping to nine-man after playing 11-man a year ago. CMC and Loyola will play a nine-man schedule but will return to 11-man football for the playoffs. As a result, the district went from two sub-districts to three - two 10-team sub-districts and one eight-team sub-district. The new West Sub-District will include MLA, RRC and WWG, as well as Edgerton-Ellsworth, Fulda, Heron Lake-Okabena, Hills-Beaver Creek, MACCRAY, RCW and RTR. Pairing changes Monday's approval by the Mt. Lake Public school board means a new paired cross country program will be on the local sports scene this fall. Mt. Lake Public, Mt. Lake Christian and Red Rock Central will have runners under the Mt. Lake Area name. The pairing came together fairly quickly. And it needed to in order to become official in time for the 2017 fall season. But beginning this winter, any new sports pairings will need to come together even more quickly. After Monday's meeting, MLP Board Chair Chad Pedersen stated that Minnesota State High School League guidelines are changing, effective in time for the winter sports season for 2017-18. Now, any new pairing agreements will need to be finalized 30 days before the first day of practice for a program. For most winter sports teams, that would mean any new agreements would need final approval in October. For spring teams, approval would need to come no later than February. BSC Showcase The Big South Conference will be holding a new volleyball event this fall. The 13 teams in the conference, plus one outside team, will take part in the inaugural Big South Conference Showcase, which will be held Aug. 26 at Windom Area High School. The Showcase essentially replaces the cross-divisional matches that had been held during the final week of the season. Now, the lone late-season cross-divisional match will be for the outright conference championship. The championship match is scheduled for Oct. 17. The day will feature seven varsity matches, held in the WAHS Blue Gym. Meanwhile, B- and C-squad matches will be held in the Gold Gym. The varsity matches will be full, regular-season best-of-five matches, while B- and C-squads will play best-of-three. The varsity schedule for the day includes: 10 a.m.: Redwood Valley vs. St. James Area. 11:30 a.m.: Luverne vs. Fairmont. 1 p.m.: Worthington vs. Waseca. 2:30 p.m.: Pipestone vs. Martin County West. 4 p.m.: Marshall vs. Blue Earth Area. 5:30 p.m.: Jackson County Central vs. St. Peter. 7 p.m.: Windom vs. New Ulm. B- and C-squads from each school will not play at the same time as their schools' varsity teams.