For the first time in more than a decade, Central Lakes Conference teams will play a balanced schedule.
For the CLC, it’s a prep football epiphany created by the addition of Grand Rapids and the recognition of Bemidji and Moorhead as full-fledged members, at least in football.
New for 2013 is a football-only conference alignment that divides the CLC into South and North Divisions.
“I like the arrangement,” Tech head coach Gregg Martig said. “I like the way it preserves regional rivals.
“Brainerd and Moorhead are probably substantially bigger than the other schools, but everyone else is close.
“Fergus Falls and Rocori are the only ones down a classification and they’re on the higher end (of Class 4A). There should be a lot of parity and less travel costs.”
The South Division features Rocori, St. Cloud Apollo, St. Cloud Tech, Sauk Rapids and Willmar.
“I think it should be very competitive,” Sartell head coach Scott Hentges said.
Added Hentges: “I like it. I like the fact that we will be able to have all local teams and you’re playing everybody right next to you.”
The North Division features Alexandria, Bemidji, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Grand Rapids and Moorhead.
In the South, trips will be shorter and everybody plays everybody, unlike the previous decade.
“It adds a true conference feeling because of the proximity of everyone being no farther than an hour away,” Apollo head coach Justin Skaalerud said. “In the past, we were traveling two-and-a-half hours away to play a conference team and it just wasn’t quite the same.”
Those folks — Bemidji, Grand Rapids and Moorhead — are still in the conference, of course.
“It used to drive me nuts,” Rocori head coach Mike Rowe said. “You’d beat somebody and still end up tied (for the title). That’s the way it was.”
Not anymore. Every team plays three games out of its division that count in the overall conference standings. Tech, for instance, plays everyone this season but Alexandria.
The plan is to rotate the schedule so that Alexandria and Tech likely will meet in the next few years.
As for who’s going to win, coaches like Brainerd in the North. The Warriors have one of their most experienced teams in years.
In the South, the case could be made for everyone.
Apollo, which finished strong and has quite a few returning starters back, is mentioned, but so is everybody else, including Rocori, Sartell and Willmar, with Sauk Rapids expected to be better than last season’s 1-8 record.
“It’s a very tough conference with a lot of good teams,” Sauk Rapids head coach Bill Magnuson said.
“I think it’s a very balanced conference,” Skaalerud said. “Just from what I’ve heard, a lot of teams are young this year and from what I’ve heard, a lot did well in their scrimmages.
“It should be interesting. Everyone’s got reasons to be excited.”
Said Rowe: “I think it’s a very competitive league.
“It’s really one of those deals that until we play the games, know one really knows how they’re going to be.”
2013 Central Lakes Conference schedule
(all games 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted)
Thursday, Aug. 29 – Bemidji at Grand Rapids
Friday, Aug. 30 – Rocori at St. Cloud Apollo; Sartell vs. St. Cloud Tech at St. Cloud State; Willmar at Sauk Rapids; Alexandria at Moorhead; Brainerd at Fergus Falls
Friday, Sept. 6 – Fergus Falls at Rocori; Sartell at Alexandria; Sauk Rapids at Bemidji, 7:30 p.m.; Moorhead at Apollo; Tech at Grand Rapids; Brainerd at Willmar
Friday, Sept. 13 — Willmar at Sartell; Apollo at Sauk Rapids; Alexandria at Brainerd; Bemidji at Fergus Falls; Grand Rapids at Moorhead
Saturday, Sept. 14 – Rocori vs. Tech, 1 p.m. at SCSU
Friday, Sept. 20 – Bemidji at Sartell; Sauk Rapids at Fergus Falls; Apollo at Brainerd; Tech at Moorhead; Grand Rapids at Willmar
Saturday, Sept. 21 – Alexandria at Rocori, 1 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 27 – Rocori at Bemidji; Sartell at Grand Rapids; Moorhead at Sauk Rapids; Fergus Falls at Apollo; Brainerd vs. Tech at St. John’s University
Saturday, Sept. 28 – Willmar at Alexandria, 3 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 4 – Rocori at Sartell; Sauk Rapids vs. Tech at SCSU; Apollo at Willmar; Grand Rapids at Alexandria; Moorhead at Fergus Falls
Saturday, Oct. 5 – Bemidji at Brainerd, 2 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 11 – Willmar at Rocori; Sartell at Sauk Rapids; Tech at Apollo; Alexandria at Bemidji; Fergus Falls at Grand Rapids; Brainerd at Moorhead
Wed., Oct. 16 – Sauk Rapids at Rocori; Apollo at Sartell; Tech at Willmar; Fergus Falls at Alexandria; Moorhead at Bemidji; Grand Rapids at Brainerd