Jason’s Blog: NRHEG and Medford in 2AA
*Note: This is the second in a three-part series on scheduling changes for our local football teams beginning next fall. Part 1 featured Blooming Prairie. Part 3 will focus on Owatonna and Triton.
If the ultimate goal of district scheduling was to help teams play more of their section opponents in the regular season, then it failed New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Medford.
Both the Panthers and Tigers will be in Section 2AA next season; both are used to regular-season schedules that don't exactly match up with their section tournaments in recent years. That trend will continue.
Section 2AA, for the next two seasons, is composed of NRHEG, Medford, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Maple River, Mankato Loyola, Blue Earth Area and LeSueur-Henderson. On its face, this looks like a group of teams that would be quite familiar with one another, and historically that would be true.
The problem is district scheduling has sort of pulled the Panthers and Tigers away from this group (five of the above eight teams, including NRHEG and Medford, were members of the now disbanded Gopher Valley Conference for football).
Let's start with the Panthers. Dan Stork and the guys are likely quite thrilled to be moved out of Section 3AA, where they could have faced anyone from Luverne to Pipestone Area in the postseason despite not being within earshot of those teams during the regular season. Section 3AA was not kind to NRHEG -- the Panthers were 0-3 in the playoffs from 2012-14, losing two of those games to Maple River (last fall's being an overtime heartbreaker).
NRHEG's subdistrict has them hosting Lester Prairie / Holy Trinity, Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop, LeSueur-Henderson and Maple River next season. The Panthers will travel to Mayer-Lutheran (season opener on Aug. 22), Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, Sibley East and Lake Crystal-Welcome-Memorial.
Hey, this is pretty good for NRHEG, even if they only have three section opponents on their schedule. I could easily see the Panthers going 6-2, even with the graduation of seniors Trevor Tracy, Spencer Tollefson and lineman Keith Maxon. The Panthers will still have two great running backs returning in Trey Hoppe and Jason Jongbloedt. A good chunk of their line returns as well, including Zeke Erickson, Wyatt Fitterer and Jon Weller.
As for Medford, they, too, have struggled in recent years in the playoffs, but that was with Norwood-Young America in Section 2AA. Now they are gone and Mankato Loyola moves up from Class A. Loyola will be one of just two opponents in Medford's subdistrict that is in Section 2AA (the other is Kenyon-Wanamingo, who the Tigers will play on the road on Sept. 18). The other six regular-season opponents for Medford are not in their playoff section.
The Tigers start 2015 with two very winnable home games against Lewiston-Altura (Aug. 22) and Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton (Aug. 28). After traveling to Loyola on Sept. 4, the Tigers will host Bethlehem Academy for the annual "Battle for the Paddle" on Sept. 11. Medford finishes the year with three very tough games: home vs. Blooming Prairie (Sept. 25), at St. Clair (Oct. 2) and at United South Central (Oct. 8).
The Tigers will be quite young next season (They had 15 freshman on their roster in 2014 and will graduate seven seniors, including quarterback AJ Chappuis and running back Luke Peterson). I know it's hard to swallow when you go 0-9, but Medford did play some really good, tough teams last year -- including Lester Prairie / Holy Trinity and Maple River. Their game against Blooming Prairie will be the first between the two teams since 2011.
The good news for both the Panthers and Tigers is their travel schedule is light in 2015 -- which was another goal of district scheduling. There were some big question marks about this when the original districts first came out last fall, particularly for NRHEG, which was included in the same district as Luverne, Worthington, Redwood Valley and 25 other schools. Also, two key rivalry games remain intact (NRHEG vs. WEM; Medford vs. Faribault B.A.).
The bad news is Blue Earth Area also joins Section 2AA. The Buccaneers have reached the state tournament in Class AAA two of the past three years; they are 38-8 overall since 2011. Still, anything's better than a three-hour bus ride to Luverne or Pipestone.
Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays at 3:50 p.m. on KRFO-AM 1390 and the free RadioPup app. Leave a comment below and follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.