Cross country will increase from two classes to three with eight sections in each. There will be 64 teams in Class 3A, 96 in 2A and the remaining teams in 1A.
“I absolutely love it,” Litchfield head coach Julie Degenrud said. “We’ve been talking about this for quite a few years that we’d like to see three classes so that we can get more teams, more kids to experience the state meet.”
Cross country coaches received a poll last winter and approximately 75 percent liked the change. The changes level out the field with schools competing with more like-sized competition and offering more avenues to the state meet for athletes.
“It was tough getting there in two classes … that limits quite a bit when you look statewide. I’m really excited to see that,” Degenrud said. “I just like it in general for everybody no matter where you’re at, to be able to have more of an opportunity to get there, whether it’s going to be team-wise or whether it’s going to be individual-wise.”
Degenrud said she “can’t see” the Dragons moving up from 1A, while the section’s bigger schools may move up a class. When the new changes are implemented, they will likely be accompanied by revamped sections.
There will be fewer state spots, however, as the number of individual qualifiers will be reduced from eight to six. The state meet will still be one day at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Volleyball will expand from three classes to four, a change that Litchfield head coach Darin Swenson said he and other have been “working pretty hard on the last couple years to try to get.”
“Statewide, I think one of the things is that, as an athlete, your opportunity to make it to the state tournament and have that state tournament experience is increased now,” Swenson said. “Rather than 24 teams, there’s 32 teams that makes the state tournament. That’s an exciting opportunity. As players I think it’s something that they’ll be excited for. … It’s going to be a change, and I think overall its going to be a positive one.”
In the new format, 64 teams will play at the 4A level, 64 will play 3A, 128 will play 2A, and the remaining teams will fill out 1A.
Swenson said that when the new sections are drawn up, Litchfield’s opponents may be similar to those of other sports with four classes, such as basketball. The changes will likely keep the Dragons in 2A, but could shake up the postseason field.
“We’ll still see some of the same schools, but, right now for our section, we are on the northern edge of it,” Swenson said. “For basketball, a lot of the section is more east. It’s definitely going to change our section quite a bit.”
The state tournament setup will need some adjusting, but Swenson is hopeful that the tournament will remain three days with the addition of another venue. Other options include keeping the tournament solely at Xcel Energy Center with a fourth day added.
Adding classes to cross country and volleyball wasn’t all that was discussed at the meeting. The board also approved adding a class to boys and girls soccer, jumping the sport from two to three classes.
One of the primary talking points was the implementation of a 35-second shot clock to boys and girls basketball. It was rejected by a 13-5 vote with one member abstaining from voting. Concerns about the shot clock plan included costs and personnel.
“I would personally love it because a lot of people tend to waste time in the last four minutes of the game,” Litchfield girls basketball head coach Shannon Walters said in December. “That would make people play more realistic basketball than just keep away, and it teaches better offensive and defensive skills.”
Boys and girls tennis also proposed to expand to three classes, but it was not brought to a vote. A similar proposal to add a third class of girls and boys track and field is expected in the spring, but Hutchinson Activities Director Thayne Johnson had concerns.
“Adding that third class, what would that do to the (state) timeframe,” he said in December. “What would that do to the (state) locations?”
Proposed changes to the state basketball, dance and wrestling tournaments were also not brought to a vote.