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Doug Wolter: Big South is a big deal

If it’s possible to be sad at the passing of a sports conference, consider me officially melancholy. The Southwest Conference, which has stood the test of time for too many decades to count, is going the way of the dinosaur.

Starting with the 2014-15 athletic year, the “Big South Conference” will submerge the old Southwest. It will consist of 13 teams from the old Southwest and South Central conferences and it will — for the most part — sooth the nerves of athletic directors involved in it.

The main thing to take out of this, at this early stage, is that it will be a work in progress. What works for one athletic year might need a little tweaking for the next. It will be exciting to see what happens next.

To me, the most interesting thing about the conference’s first year involves football. Barring new legislation from the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), the conference will consist of one grouping involving all competing teams — no divisions — and the team with the best record will be declared the conference champion. The rub is this: the schedules will be made pitting the bigger teams against the bigger teams and smaller teams against the smaller teams, so conceivably a team playing the weakest schedule could wind up the conference champion.

All this could change as quickly as next season, however. The MSHSL may decide to place all Minnesota football teams in “pods,” or “districts,” making the new Big South football plans moot.

Worthington High School athletic director Josh Dale says the new conference setup is a boom to schedule-makers, adding, “Obviously, it’s going to help out some sports more than others.”

It’s good for soccer. In the current Southwest Conference, only Marshall and Worthington offered soccer. Within the Big South, Fairmont, New Ulm, Waseca and St. Peter have it, too. So athletic directors will need to go outside the conference less often to find opponents.

“It also stabilizes hockey for us,” said Dale on Monday. “We don’t have to travel quite as far. It’s hard to find non-conference games.”

Luverne hits the Target

The Luverne Cardinals basketball teams didn’t fare quite as well as they’d hoped Friday at Target Center. But their experiences at the Minnesota Timberwolves’ home were excellent nonetheless.

The boys and girls varsity teams earned the right to perform at Target Center by selling at least 150 tickets to the T-Wolves’ Saturday game against the Miami Heat. That was easy to do, but winning their games against Martin County West proved more difficult. The LHS girls were beaten 68-31 and the boys lost 46-34 despite moving out to an 11-0 lead.

Even so, great memories were made.

“I think the girls enjoyed it,” said girls head coach Corey Nelson.

Nelson said the major differences his players noticed were that the lights were much brighter than what they were accustomed to. And the floor was 10 feet longer than a high school floor.

Luverne boys coach John Sichmeller agreed that the experience impressed the players. “I heard a few kids say, ‘This is where LeBron James plays,’” he said.

All the LHS girl and boy players attended Saturday’s NBA contest between the Timberwolves and the Heat. They also went to the Mall of America on Saturday.

The Cardinal girls sat in the regular section of seats to watch the Timberwolves, but the boys watched as part of the “Timberwolves Army,” which is a special section where rooters stand throughout the game. They are encouraged to be loud, and they are given signs to wave.

The Heat won the game, by the way, 103-82. James had 21 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists.

Harmening not done yet

Jackson County Central’s Jon Harmening surpassed one milestone last week when he scored his thousandth point. He will become the school’s all-time scoring leader before the year is done.

The senior center, who became a starter after Christmas during his freshman year, has 1,070 points, having scored 74 in four games (JCC is 2-2 on the season). He is second all-time in JCC history behind Ty Schwarting, who has 1,160. So Harmening has only 90 more points to go.

“In five games, he’ll be there,” says his head coach, Trent Sukalski, who adds, “He’s a good kid. Hard worker. It’s kind of nice to see him piling up all these numbers. … In my eyes, he’s the best post player around the area.”

You certainly couldn’t dispute that statement based on statistics. Harmening is already the school’s all-time rebounding leader and, barring injury, he’ll have 1,000 rebounds by the time the season is over. The No. 2 man on the JCC all-time rebounding list is Pat Garvin, with 403.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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