March 30, 2017 at 1:44 p.m.
The biggest changes will be in volleyball and golf for North Branch, wrestling and boys hockey for both schools.
The North Branch volleyball team sees the biggest overall change, as they move from Class AAA down to Class AA. With that comes a welcome section change. They were previously grouped with Forest Lake, Chisago Lakes, Grand Rapids, Anoka, Blaine, Andover and many other large metro area schools. CL will still in that section
The shift to Section 7AA means the schools with North Branch are Aitkin, Cloquet, Duluth Denfeld, Esko, Eveleth-Gilbert, Greenway, Hermantown, Hibbing, Internation Falls, Duluth Marshall, Mora, Pine City, Proctor, Two Harbors and Virginia.
Both North Branch golf teams have a whole new batch of teams in their section too, and they may not like the end result. They leave the familiary of Chisago Lakes, Andover, Forest Lake and some of the bigger suburban schools for a section with a very heavy private school flavor.
The North Branch boys golf section includes Holy Angels, Blake, Concordia Academy, DeLaSalle, Hill-Murray, Minnehaha Academy, New Life Academy, St. Anthony Village, St. Croix Lutheran, St. Croix Prep Academy, St. Paul Academy and Summit School, Totino-Grace and then public school cohorts Minneapolis Edison, Minneapolis Roosevelt and St. Paul Humboldt.
“I'm not too worried about the new section. I think it might be good for us to play some different competition,” North Branch boys golf Head Coach Ryan Minke said. “A lot of the teams in our conference are also in our section, so it might be nice to play against some different teams.”
Minke isn’t at all worried about going against teams that North Branch hasn’t seen often, if ever. “It will take some getting used to, but the nice thing about golf is, you really don't have to know much about your opponents. You just have to know the course you are playing. I will try to schedule some events on the courses we will be playing sections at, but that's really the only change I will make to the schedule.”
The girls golf section has a similar feel for North Branch, just with a few of the all girls schools, including St. Agnes High School and Visitation.
Girls coach Jerome Huselid is excited about the move down to Class AA. “I was happy to hear that we were moving down to AA in golf as it is a challenge to compete with a lot of the bigger schools,” he said. “However, we have some very good teams in the section realignment with some well established athletic programs in private schools.”
Both wrestling teams were shifted from Section 7AA to Section 4AA, which will change their travel to down south.
Their past section featured Mora, Milaca, Rush City, Princeton, Hibbing, Virginia, Pine City, Cloquet, Proctor and Grand Rapids.
The new digs will house both the Vikings and Wildcats as well as Mahtomedi, South St. Paul, St. Croix Lutheran, St. Paul Como Park, St. Paul Highland Park, St. Paul Washington Tech Magnet, Minnehaha/DeLaSalle, St. Paul Humboldt and St. Paul Johnson.
“It’s definitely going to be different after spending 10 years in 7AA. I’m looking forward to it now that the initial surprise is gone,” Chisago Lakes wrestling Head Coach Shawn Fredrixon said. “We are on the high end of the enrollment range in Class AA, so I don’t see it as a big deal, no matter who the opponents are. As for scheduling, we'll add a few new events to see some section opponents, but overall we'll keep a lot the same.”
North Branch grappling coach Jim Hoard was excited about the change because the new section isn’t as loaded as the old. “The section looks to be a little easier, which is good for our program at this point,” he said, alluding to the recent struggles of the Viking wrestlers. But, he’ll keep a big school mentality on his schedule. “Bigger schools will stay on our schedule. This will help us to prepare for a section tournament that is not as competitive,” he said.
Another interesting change comes in boys hockey, although this one isn’t as drastic as the other section switches. In Section 5A, Monticello departs and is replaced by the Northern Lakes Lightning. That’s very significant since Monticello has played in the last two section championship games, including a 3-1 win over Chisago Lakes in this years title game. The Magic went on to the state championship game and nearly won the whole tournament.
The Northern Lakes Lightning are a nice team, but not quite on Monticello’s level. They are a co-op of Aitkin, Crosby-Ironton, Pequot Lakes and Pine Rive-Backus. The Lightning were 21-5-1 last year but play very small schools throughout the year, nothing like the Mississippi 8 gauntlet that Chisago Lakes and North Branch endure.
The changes are a standard practice every two years as the Minnesota State High School League searches for balance and continuity. The only other times there is a switch is if a new class is created in a sport, such as softball and baseball last year that expanded from three classes to four.
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