Wednesday, July 27, 2005

High School Sports Season...

Well, we're nearing the end of July, and that means a couple of things:
  • two months to go in the MLB season
  • a few short weeks until football starts
  • and of course, a few short weeks until high school sports begin again

Don't get me wrong, I can't wait to see the NFL, NHL and NBA start and the MLB playoffs begin. But the fall is also a wonderful time of year because...there's high school sports to follow. Here are a couple subplots I'll be following this fall:

1. A New Era for Lakeville Schools

Beginning this fall, Lakeville will have two high schools, North and South. The Panthers and the Cougars. Red and black, and red and gold. Of course, the school will provide many more opportunities for kids to participate in sports and should help improve academics in the district, and that's what it's really all about. But, if anyone can be critical of the decision, they'll likely cite the fact that Lakeville is the two-time defending Challenge Cup champion. The Cup is given to the high school with the best overall athletics and activities program each year, based on performance, and being as involved as I was during my years there I'm proud of what my alma mater became.

But it's a new day. I was raised in South's new territory, and so I'm particularly interested to see how the athletic programs fare this fall. Granted, who expects much out of a new athletics department? Not me. Eastview is the next-newest Lake Conference school, and it took them a few years to build a strong program. And I would expect that Lakeville South will be much the same on the playing field. But where does a pure bred Panther stake his allegiance when it comes time for the inaugural North/South gridiron war? As the saying goes, it might be a game-time decision.

2. More of the Same?

This will be my second fall announcing high school football games, and as a long-time fan, I've noticed a few trends that I'm sorry to say I'm getting tired of. First, the Eden Prairie football program continues to dominate. Take nothing away from the kids, who come out in droves every year and work very hard to be the best. An Eden Prairie football roster takes three pages of paper, and depth charts go five to ten deep depending on position. Wow.

So maybe it would follow that their coach should be demanding. Well, Mike Grant is definitely that. And quite honestly, I wouldn't be unhappy to see him endure two or more losses this year. When my Panthers ended EP's mammoth winning streak in Eden Prairie two seasons ago, Grant gave no credit at all to a #1-ranked and future state championship team that ended his record streak on his home field - and then beat them soundly in the state playoffs that year. He gave the Jefferson Jaguars no credit at all when they took the Eagles to the brink before losing in last year's regular season finale in a matchup of undefeated, top-ten ranked teams. As the son of a former Vikings legendary coach, he knows more about the game of football than I ever will, and he is undoubtedly a leading high school coach that could likely move up the ladder if he wanted. But will Eden Prairie continue its domination, and if not, will Coach Grant remember his manners?

From one Lake Conference football streak to another, I'm sick of Bloomington Kennedy going winless. Die-hard Eagle fans have waited a LONG time now for a victory, and will this be the year the streak ends? They return a good core from last year's team, but will it be enough? You heard it here first - there will be a post-game party on Bloomington's East Side some time this fall.

Across the metro, will Cretin Derham-Hall continue its football prowess now that it's a member of a real conference? I'm sorry, but all games in the old St. Paul City conference should be struck from the record books because they simply weren't fair. Last year was better, as Cretin teams played an independent schedule of top teams in the area. So how will they fare in a decent football conference, featuring the likes of Hastings, Woodbury and White Bear Lake on a regular basis? Time will tell.

And outside of football, can the Lake continue its absolute dominance of volleyball? Take a look in the rankings at any time this season and I'll bet there will be at least 5 conference teams among the top ten. Eagan and Chaska have been great lately, with Eden Prairie, Lakeville and Jefferson challenging. If you're into every single contest having an impact on a conference title race, look no further than Lake Conference volleyball.

Lots of great stuff to watch. And I'll do my best to stay on top of it for you.

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