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MSHSL revives volleyball, football this fall

BACK IN ACTION — Fairmont defensive back Jake Harris (2) battles receiver Alec Reutzel for a long-distance pass during football practice Monday afternoon in Fairmont. The Minnesota State High School League’s board of directors voted on Monday to allow football and volleyball to play this fall with modified schedules. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

FAIRMONT — Anticipation.

Prep football and volleyball fans across the state of Minnesota checked their cell phones, smartwatches, laptops and computers for each and every up-to-the-minute tweet by Minnesota State High School League media specialist John Millea starting at 9 a.m. Monday.

Four debate-filled Zoom hours later, the MSHSL’s board of directors resuscitated high school football and volleyball, and created frameworks for sectional playoffs pertaining to girls tennis, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross country, and swimming and diving.

“I was involved in multiple Zoom meetings today,” Fairmont High School activities director/head football coach Mat Mahoney said before heading off to practice on the gridiron. “It’s been a long, but productive day and it’s not done yet.

“Keep your fingers crossed — we should have a football schedule put together by (tonight).”

Mahoney said he and his fellow district football coaches originally created a couple of different options for a spring football schedule, and will make a decision — via email — on one of those en route to a final draft today.

The MSHSL voted 15-3 in favor of bringing football back this fall, with practices starting Monday, Sept. 28. Schools will play six regular-season games starting Oct. 9-10, followed by a two-week postseason that kicks off the week of Nov. 16.

“From a football coach’s perspective, I think it’s great the seniors get an opportunity to play in the fall rather in the spring, when the weather can be very unpredictable,” said Mahoney. “As far as COVID-19 is concerned, our school district will take as many precautionary measures as needed in order to keep our student-athletes safe.

“From a community standpoint, whether we like it or not, we need to mask up to help give all of our fall athletes a fighting chance to play another day.”

The MSHSL also breathed new life into volleyball on Monday, allowing official practice to begin Monday, Sept. 28, before the first matches hit the hardwood courts Oct. 8. The board of directors designed an 11-week regular-season schedule that features 14 dual matches. Similar to football, volleyball’s playoffs will be two weeks long, beginning the week of Nov. 30.

“Our executive secretary is developing a plan for conference volleyball play, with a schedule to be determined by (tonight),” said Blue Earth Area High School activities administrator Rob Norman. “We haven’t received any guidelines from the MSHSL yet for protocol concerning spectators for volleyball, but we’re anticipating zero due to it being played indoors, and the state-mandated 250 for outdoor events.”

Norman believes nearly every school district is seeking ways to stream both indoor and outdoor athletic events due to limitations on watching from the live venues.

“We’ll have to go with the flow and try to be flexible in figuring out how to accomplish those goals,” said Norman. “We just need to keep positive attitudes and figure out our options, and good things will happen.”

The positive news continued at Monday’s MSHSL meeting as lunch time approached as the board created blueprints for postseason tournaments for the sports already competing this fall in girls tennis, girls and boys soccer, and boys and girls cross country.

Girls tennis will hit the courts — outdoor only — from Oct. 5-17, with high seeds likely playing host to the sectional competition. The playoffs will consist of a team format only, with programs playing two matches per week.

The section cross country meets will break from the starting line during the week of Oct. 12, with multiple host sites being determined by the sectional representatives.

The competition will feature a maximum of four teams on the course at one time, with sectional management determining how the teams are grouped.

Cross country teams will consist of six runners, rather than the usual seven, with the top five still scoring. The reduction allows for not more than 24 runners on the starting line at any time.

Like both girls tennis and both soccers, advancement beyond the section meets will be determined at a later date.

Both soccer postseasons will run from Oct. 12-24, with teams being limited to two games per week. Sections with more than eight teams should schedule pre-quarterfinal games Oct. 12-13.

The sectional quarterfinals will be held between Oct. 14-17, with teams opting to play on that Wednesday and/or Friday to help accommodate the lower number of officials available. The week of Oct. 19 should be utilized for the sectional semifinals and finals.

“The MSHSL hasn’t determined the format for any state tournaments yet, but we’ll just have to be patient and take this day-by-day for the time being,” said Norman. “There’s going to be some anxiety for coaches trying to follow all the protocols and keep everyone healthy in order to keep the seasons going. We just have to make the best out of a difficult situation.”

Mahoney agrees with his fellow Big South Conference activities director.

“Everything can change in the blink of an eye, so we have to be thankful for every day we get to be in school and every day we get to practice,” said Mahoney.

The status of winter prep sports in Minnesota will be addressed at the next scheduled MSHSL board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 1.

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