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League On Very Solid Ground

07/16/2018, 10:45am CDT
By Tom Schardin

The South Suburban Conference is entering its ninth season this fall and the 10-team league seems to be on very solid ground.

The summer months often bring rumors of conference shakeups, restructuring and how some teams need to be in a new league based on size or lack there of.

But all has been quiet on the SSC front.

St. Michael-Albertville was recently denied to join the five-team Lake Conference. The Knights have outgrown the Mississippi Conference, winning 70 percent of the league crowns over the last five years, so the growing school is looking for a new home.

The Lake Conference said no. So did the 14-team Northwest Suburban Conference. The Minnesota State High School League may need to step in and put STMA into a league.

But it won't be the SSC. The geography doesn't make sense. Prior Lake and St. Michael-Albertville are nearly 50 miles away. For Rosemount and Farmington, it's nearly 70 miles.

Prior Lake Athletic Director Russ Reetz knows how the Knights feel. Nine years ago, Prior Lake outgrow the now-defunct Missota Conference and needed to leave. Lucky for the Lakers, the SSC was right there for them — a perfect landing spot for their fast-growing programs and rising enrollment.

"St. Michael seems a lot like Prior Lake — growing enrollment, great facilities and booming programs," Reetz said. "Geography must be playing a major factor in their struggle to find a landing spot. District football should make all of this easier, but enrollment, like programming, number of levels, geography and demographics, are all considered during the conference merry-go-round."

Over the last few years, there have been rumors, speculation and opinion that Prior Lake should bolt the SSC and move into the Lake Conference. Shakopee has also been part of that discussion.

But Reetz said there is no reason for the Lakers to leave the SSC.

"The majority of schools that make up the SSC now exceed 2,000-plus students in enrollment [grades 9 to 12]," Reetz said. "Farmington, [Lakeville] North and South are inching closer to that number with room to grow. We are experiencing competitive balance across schools and we all provide like-programming with the same number of levels.

"Conferences with 10 schools provide a great schedule for most sports with just the right number of non-conference opportunities," Reetz added.

According to the MSHSL enrollment numbers, Prior Lake is the biggest SSC school with 2,466 students. The Lakers are the seventh biggest in the state.

Burnsville is second biggest in the SSC (2,191), followed by Shakopee (2,143), Eastview and Rosemount (2,058), Eagan (1,910), Farmington (1,894), Lakeville South (1,721), Lakeville North (1,717) and Apple Valley (1,312).

There's also been reporting that the Metro West Conference could use a shakeup, despite being only four years old. Has Chanhassen already outgrown that eight-team league, along with Chaska?

There's been opinion that Chanhassen and Chaska should leave for the Lake Conference, along with STMA, Prior Lake and Shakopee to form a new 10-team conference.

Chaska and Chanhassen have already entered into an agreement with the Lake Conference in 2019 and 2020 to play all five schools in baseball and softball.

But that 10-team Lake Conference seems highly unlikely. Chaska and Chanhassen would have a better shot getting into the SSC down the road.

Is expansion possible in the SSC? New Prague is another school that could be a good fit.

Reetz said expanding the SSC is possible in the future, but not right now. The structure of the SSC is too solid with the strong competitive balance that exists, the same level of programming and the geography.

"The schools are very satisfied with our current structure," Reetz said.

The SSC is also starting to enjoy a lot of success as a league. It won six state titles last school year and had seven runner-up finishes.

Winning state titles were Prior Lake (boys lacrosse), Apple Valley (girls lacrosse), Eastview (girls basketball and dance, high kick) and Eagan (volleyball and girls soccer).

Runner-up finishes went to: Lakeville North (gymnastics and volleyball), Eastview (dance, jazz), Shakopee (wrestling and boys swimming), Apple Valley (boys basketball) and Lakeville South (boys alpine skiing).

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