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Willmar Cardinals to face their only former CLC rival in football

The Willmar Cardinals football team will play against the Rocori Spartans on Friday, September 29, 2023, in a game that marks the only encounter between former Central Lakes Conference (CLC) opponents this season. The CLC was dissolved for football after the district scheduling system was introduced, which prioritized playing teams in the same class rather than the same conference.

District scheduling changes the landscape of football

The district scheduling system was implemented in 2015 to address the challenges of finding opponents for football teams across Minnesota. The system divided the state into 18 districts based on geography, enrollment, and competitive balance. Each district had a committee that created schedules for its member teams, regardless of their conference affiliation.

The system aimed to reduce travel costs, increase fan interest, and create more balanced matchups. However, it also meant that some traditional rivalries and conference games were lost or reduced. For example, the CLC, which had eight teams in Class AAAAA or Class AAAA, was no longer a viable conference for football. Instead, most of the former CLC teams were placed in different districts and classes, depending on their enrollment and performance.

Willmar Cardinals look to bounce back from two losses

The Willmar Cardinals are currently 1-2 in the Class AAAAA District 8, after losing to Hutchinson and Waconia in the past two weeks. The Cardinals are led by senior quarterback Ethan Roux, who has thrown for 537 yards and six touchdowns this season. Roux also leads the team in rushing with 210 yards and two touchdowns.

The Cardinals will face a tough challenge on Friday, as they travel to Cold Spring to take on the Rocori Spartans, who are 3-0 in the Class AAAA District 6. The Spartans have outscored their opponents 114-28 this season, with a balanced offense and a stingy defense. The Spartans are led by senior quarterback Jack Steil, who has thrown for 462 yards and seven touchdowns, and senior running back Luke Humbert, who has rushed for 332 yards and four touchdowns.

Willmar Cardinals to face their only former CLC rival in football

The game will be the only one between former CLC teams this season, as the district scheduling system has reduced the frequency of such matchups. The last time the two teams met was in 2019, when the Spartans defeated the Cardinals 35-14.

Former CLC teams still compete in other sports

While the district scheduling system has changed the landscape of football in Minnesota, it has not affected other sports that still follow the conference model. The CLC still exists for sports like volleyball, soccer, tennis, cross-country, and swimming. The conference consists of nine teams: Alexandria, Brainerd, Fergus Falls, Rocori, Sartell-St. Stephen, Sauk Rapids-Rice, St. Cloud Apollo, St. Cloud Tech, and Willmar.

Some of the former CLC teams have earned recognition for their performances in other sports this season. For example, Willmar boys soccer player Mohamed Jigre was named CLC Performer of the Week after scoring two goals off the bench against Rocori. Fergus Falls girls swimmer Aisling Cox was also honored as CLC Performer of the Week after winning four events at a dual meet against Alexandria.

Former CLC players excel at college level

Some of the former CLC players have gone on to play at the college level and have made an impact for their teams. For example,

  • BOLD’s Leslie Snow is a sophomore libero/outside hitter for the Central College volleyball team. Central is an NAIA school in Pella, Iowa. Snow has 97 kills, 120 digs, 10 service aces and four ace blocks for the Dutch, who have a 12-2 record.
  • New London-Spicer’s Ashlyn Olson is a right-side hitter for the University of North Dakota volleyball team. The junior psychology major has 25 kills and six assisted blocks for the Division I Fighting Hawks, who have a 4-10 record.
  • Paynesville’s Kyleigh Tangen is a freshman outside hitter on the University of Sioux Falls volleyball team. Tangen has 37 kills, three service aces, 33 digs and six assisted blocks for the Division II Cougars, who are 4-7.
  • Yellow Medicine East’s Ruby Bones is a freshman middle blocker on the Minnesota State-Moorhead volleyball team.

These players are examples of how the former CLC teams have produced talented athletes who have continued their careers at higher levels of competition.

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