Gopher expands to 10 schools

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 18, 2002

The Gopher Conference has undergone several changes during its 50-plus years of existence, but the latest is definitely the most dramatic and far reaching.

The new alignment, which begins with the upcoming school year, has 10 schools in the conference in all sports but two. Football and cross country are part of the Gopher-Valley Conference which has two divisions, 10 schools in one and nine in the other, and it includes teams not affiliated with the league in other sports.

For basketball, baseball and softball, the conference will have a North and South Division and crown division and overall champions.

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Confused? Give it time. It does seem to make sense from a geographical and competitive standpoint.

&uot;I think it’s good,&uot; said United South Central Athletic Director and head football coach Brent Schimek.

&uot;We’re right in with schools our size now in every sport. We’re not in with schools three times bigger.&uot;

After being a member of the Gopher-Valley for football the last two years, USC’s old conference, the South Central, issued an ultimatum: Return to the SCC for football or get out completely.

USC opted out, leaving the SCC with six schools &045; Blue Earth Area, Fairmont, New Ulm, St. James, St. Peter and Waseca &045; and leaving one SCC school with some hard feelings. That school would not schedule USC in any sport at any level this fall.

The new Gopher-Valley for football and cross country has these teams in the AA Division: Blooming Prairie, Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial, Madelia-Truman, Maple River, Martin County West, Minnesota Valley Lutheran, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, United South Central and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown. The A Division includes Elmore Academy, Faribault Bethlehem Academy, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, Mankato Loyola, Medford, Minneapolis Lutheran, Randolph, St. Clair and Winsted-Holy Trinity. The divisions are determined by enrollment.

In all other sports, the Gopher Conference will include Alden-Conger, Blooming Prairie, Faribault Bethlehem Academy, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, Mankato Loyola, Medford, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva, Randolph, United South Central and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.

For boys’ and girls’ basketball, baseball and softball, the South Division has Alden-Conger, Blooming Prairie, Loyola, NRHEG and USC with the North Division including Bethlehem Academy, JWP, Medford, Randolph and WEM. Teams will play opponents in their own division twice and the other division once. Division and overall championships will be awarded. These divisions were determined geographically.

Schimek sees the new conference as very competitive, especially in boys’ basketball, with Bethlehem Academy, Loyola and WEM all playing in the state tournament last year.

&uot;I think it will be pretty competitive in all sports,&uot; said Schimek.

And coaches of course, have mixed feelings.

&uot;There are definite advantages and disadvantages,&uot; said Schimek. &uot;We’re picking up some rivalries that are closer, but we’re giving up some rivalries too. All of the teams in the South Central, except Fairmont and New Ulm, we’ll be playing nonconference.&uot;

The main disadvantage for USC is with girls’ tennis, where the Rebels were very successful in the SCC but now must play an independent schedule.

Overall, though, Schimek said the feeling at USC is positive about the move.

&uot;I think everyone’s real excited,&uot; said Schimek. &uot;I think it’s a good move. Competition, size-wise, it’s a good move for us, no doubt about that.&uot;

NRHEG coach Duey Ferber, whose girls’ track and field teams have dominated the Gopher Conference in recent years, said the new league will definitely be much more competitive but that he’s looking forward to it.

&uot;I think it’s good,&uot; said Ferber. &uot;The conference track meet will be a much tougher meet, with everyone pulling points away from each other, but I’m looking forward to it. I think it will be good. It will make our conference that much stronger.&uot;