High Schools: Section realignments mean more changes for Willmar Cardinals

Joe Brown, West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minn.
·5 min read

Apr. 17—WILLMAR — Willmar athletics is getting moved into familiar territory, albeit under different circumstances, after section realignment for 2021-22 and 2022-23 was announced by the Minnesota State High School League on Friday.

For the first time since 2011, the Cardinal football team moves to Section 2AAAA. Previously, Willmar played in 6AAAAA (2012-14) and 8AAAA (2015-20).

Along with Willmar, 2AAAA football includes: Faribault, Hutchinson, Jordan, Marshall and St. Peter.

"This afternoon, I was taking some time to look at all of AAAA; who went up from AAAA to AAAAA or down from AAAA to AAA," said Willmar football coach Jon Konold. "Mankato East got moved to AAAAA, so geographically, that put us to where it made sense to move us to the south."

Konold continued, "It's another tough section. Every team in the section had a winning record last year except for St. Peter (2-3). It'll be traditionally tough just like (8AAAA). Instead of Detroit Lakes and Rocori, now it's Marshall and Hutchinson. Jordan's solid, too. ... I used to coach in the Big Nine Conference (with Mankato West) so it'll be fun to play Faribault again."

Facilitating much of that change is the addition of classes in volleyball (from three to four), cross-country (from two to three), boys and girls soccer (from two to three) and track and field (from two to three).

Willmar will stay in the same sections in volleyball (2AAA), cross-country (8AA) and track and field (8AA) but all three will look much different.

Instead of being paired with large Twin Cities metro schools like Chaska, Minnetonka and Shakopee, 2AAA volleyball will include southern Minnesota teams including Marshall, Hutchinson and Mankato East and West.

Then in cross-country and track, out are teams from the St. Cloud metro, Brainerd, Bemidji and Moorhead. In their place are programs like New London-Spicer, East Grand Forks, Albany and Thief River Falls along with holdovers like Alexandria, Becker, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Little Falls and Rocori.

In boys and girls soccer, the Cardinals will jump up a class and go from 6A to 6AA.

"Every six years or so for us, we're that flip-flop big school between the south and north," said Willmar activities director Ryan Blahosky. "I was on the AD advisory board so I understand what's going on. The biggest thing was with volleyball, track, soccer and cross-country adding a class. It made a big difference in that alignment."

In other Willmar moves, boys basketball (from 2AAA), girls basketball (from 5AAA), baseball (from 6AAA) and softball (from 5AAA) will all move to Section 8AAA. Boys hockey will also make a switch from 3A to 6A.

Boys swimming (3A), girls swimming (3A), dance team (3AA), girls hockey (6A), gymnastics (6A), Nordic skiing (8), boys tennis (8AA), girls tennis (8AA), wrestling (8AAA), boys golf (8AAA) and girls golf (8AAA) will all remain in the same sections.

"It's a big puzzle and you have to put it all together," Blahosky said of the realignment. "From my standpoint, it'll be a scheduling battle to see where non-conference games will come from for everything except football (with district scheduling). ... It gives us an opportunity to play against some new teams."

For more on section realignment, go to https://www.mshsl.org/tournaments/competitive-sections.

Top tennis teams together

In 2020, New London-Spicer was the Section 5A girls tennis champion. Its Wright County Conference rival Litchfield was Section 2A champion. And in Section 6A, Osakis prevailed over the previous year's champion, Minnewaska.

Now in 2021, the Wildcats, Dragons, Silverstreaks and Lakers all play for the Section 6A title.

Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Melrose, New Testament Christian (Alexandria) and Sauk Centre will also compete in Section 6A.

ACGC wrestling joins 5A fray

Section 5A has been one of the most high-caliber wrestling sections the last two seasons. In 2021, the section had three top-six teams in eventual section champion BBE (second), Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville (first) and Minnewaska (sixth).

LPGE/Browerville is headed to Section 7A. But in its place is third-ranked Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City. The Falcons were previously in Section 4A.

Along with ACGC, a pair of Section 3A teams will join the mix in Minneota and Canby. The Vikings finished the 2021 season in the Lean & Mean rankings.

Also in the 10-team section: BOLD, Benson, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, Ortonville and Paynesville.

Notable changes — After winning the Section 5AA football championship this past fall, Morris/Chokio-Alberta makes the jump to Section 6AAA while St. Cloud Cathedral and Sauk Centre leave the section. Teams in 6AAA are: Albany, Melrose, Minnewaska, Montevideo, Morris/CA, New London-Spicer and Pierz. — Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato boys hockey will look to try to go back to state in a new section. The Dragons have been moved from 3A to 2A.

Teams in Section 2A include: Bloomington Kennedy, Breck, Delano, Hutchinson, Litchfield/D-C, Minneapolis, Mound-Westonka/Watertown-Mayer, Orono, Providence Academy, Southwest Christian and Waconia. — The Litchfield boys basketball team will get to stay closer to home for the section playoffs, moving from 5AA to 3AA.

Section 5AA was a mix of private schools and teams scattered across the Twin Cities and the west metro. The top four teams in the section were Minneapolis North, Blake, Rockford and Litchfield.

Teams in 3AA include: ACGC; Eden Valley-Watkins; Fairmont; Jackson County Central; Litchfield; Luverne; Minnewaska; Montevideo; Morris/CA; New London-Spicer; Paynesville; Pipestone; Redwood Valley; St. James; West Central Area; and Windom.