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July 21, 2018

2/28/2018 9:07:00 AM
Pairings change the area sports landscape

Joel Alvstad
Sports Editor

While there isn't any new news regarding the prospect of expanding the sports pairing between Mt. Lake Public, Mt. Lake Christian and Comfrey beyond the spring season, there has been at least one development recently.
The MLP board recently received and approved a request from MLC to pair in trapshooting, beginning with this spring's season.
Trapshooting is a rapidly-growing sport in the state, as it often caters to students who do not participate in other sports for a variety of reasons.
The MLA team participates in the state's Clay Target League. Rather than head-to-head competition, each team shoots at its own home range, with computerized scoring determining wins against other teams.
There also has been news on the pairing front for other schools in the area. Beginning this spring, Heron Lake-Okabena and Fulda will be joining forces in all sports except boys basketball and volleyball.
Students approved the team name of the HLOF Coyotes.
My understanding is that the HLOF spring teams will use Fulda's existing schedules for track and golf and HLO's existing schedules for baseball and fastpitch.
Fulda had previously not offered baseball or fastpitch, but does have available fields to potentially host games. I imagine that the new pairing will try to have at least one event in each sport in Fulda this spring.
Meanwhile, the HLO golf team last year played its home meets in Worthington after the closure of the Lakefield golf course. Fulda's course will be the home site for the newly-paired team.
Neither HLO nor Fulda has an existing track facility.
It remains to be seen how the new program's four football games next fall and its home girls basketball games will be divided.
In football, the new pairing figures to impact the area football schedule considerably.
HLOF will continue to play a nine-man schedule, but will be bumped up to Class A for the playoffs.
At least one other school in the Nine-Man South District will enter a new pairing agreement. Mankato Loyola will pair with St. Clair for football, beginning next fall.
And after it forfeited out of its playoff game this fall, it's anyone's guess what will happen with the West Lutheran football program, although it seemed to have better numbers in the lower grades.
According to Nine-Man South District coordinator Leo Theisen, the ADs of the district were planning to meet to discuss how to realign the sub-districts to have an even number of teams in each, eliminating the prospect of having a "zero week."
Theisen said the most-likely scenario would be a team from the Central Sub-District shifted to the West Sub-District. That would leave eight teams in the East, eight teams in the Central and 10 teams in the West.
Based on geography, the most-likely team to make the move west would be Cedar Mountain-Comfrey.
As far as I know, there haven't been any other pairing discussions for programs in the Nine-Man South District. But things can change rapidly when small schools are faced with the prospect of not having enough kids to participate in a sport.
There are a handful of programs that could potentially see numbers issues, while a handful of others that had numbers issues in recent years appear to be on the rebound. Two examples of programs on the rebound are Nicollet and LeRoy-Ostrander. Nicollet ended the season with 15 players a couple of years ago. This fall, they were the top seed in Section 3 Nine-Man before falling to MLA and have very good numbers in the grades coming up.
LeRoy-Ostrander's numbers were low enough for them to cancel their varsity program a couple of years ago. After a rough first year back, the Cardinals inched back toward the .500 mark this year in the rugged Section 1 Nine-Man.
As has been the case, the wild card seems to be West Lutheran. A nine-man team at a Twin Cities school really has no convenient direction to go for its schedule. The MSHSL placed West in the Nine-Man South District and the district placed it in the Central sub-district.
But if West Lutheran isn't able to build more numbers for a program that has struggled to find victories, it could make it difficult to field a team. That could potentially throw a wrench into the entire district, not just the Central sub-district.
Etched in history
Mt. Lake grad Carter Kirk is wrapping up a stellar collegiate basketball career at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall.
Kirk recently became the school's career rebounding leader and moved into the top 10 on the school's career scoring list.
SMSU advanced to the championship game of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament. It was scheduled to face Northern State in the finals last night in Sioux Falls.

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