Section 7 playoff troubles continue

At least we have Moose Lake-Willow River. That may as well be the mantra for Section 7 this fall. The Rebels' football team will play Luverne on Friday at the Metrodome in a Minnesota Class AA high school state tournament semifinal game. But that...

At least we have Moose Lake-Willow River.

That may as well be the mantra for Section 7 this fall.

The Rebels' football team will play Luverne on Friday at the Metrodome in a Minnesota Class AA high school state tournament semifinal game.

But that's the only highlight for Section 7 so far this fall.

Yes, Cromwell has punched another ticket for its annual bus ride down to the Metrodome for a Nine-Man semifinal Friday, but the Cardinals technically play out of Section 5. For their Northeastern Minnesota brethren, it's been another long fall.


The playoff difficulties began in girls tennis when not a single team or individual from the Northland qualified for the state tournament. Schools from the southern half of the section not only won team titles, but they also scarfed up all the available singles and doubles spots.

That was followed by disappointments in other sports:

* Three Section 7 soccer teams lost their state tournament quarterfinal games by a combined 19-1 score. The Duluth East (7-0) and Cloquet (6-0) girls and Duluth Marshall boys (6-0) didn't put up much of a fight against highly ranked teams from the Twin Cities area. With the advent of a new seedings process, coaches complained privately that teams from this area were seeded too low and were forced to play the state's best right away, but with these results don't expect those seedings to improve in the future.

* Northland teams and individuals were shut out of the top 10 at the state cross country meet, usually a strong sport for area runners. At 11th, Esko's Kaycee Knutson was the highest individual finisher. Ironically, Knutson's Esko volleyball team lost later that night in a Section 5AA final.

* Section 7 representatives suffered heartache at the state volleyball tournament: Hibbing, Virginia and Littlefork-Big Falls went a combined 0-6, winning just four total games.

* In football, Section 7 won one of five state quarterfinal games last weekend. Moose Lake-Willow River upended defending state champion Eden Valley-Watkins to become the first section team from the area to advance as far as a state semifinal this fall. Three of the other four teams lost their quarterfinals by double digits.

This is not a one-year trend. Prior to this fall, area teams were 2-15 the past three years in the state football tournament with both victories by Cromwell, which also is the only school from the region to win a game at the Metrodome since 1999.

So what is it? Why does this region struggle so often in so many different sports at the state tournament level?


One theory is that money makes the world go round. Schools from the metro area -- especially private schools -- usually have better facilities and equipment, thanks to deeper pockets. Schools up north are more used to cutbacks in their athletic departments and rarely take a step forward without taking two backward first. Budgets for youth sports are nonexistent in some areas, including Duluth, limiting athletes' growth in their formative years. Schools that are able to upgrade facilities -- Esko, for instance -- often stand above others in the area, but still struggle against the rest of the state.

Certainly, nobody can question the effort student-athletes from the Northland give. They train just as hard as athletes from elsewhere and give the cliched 110 percent. And while coaches make less money and are fewer in number here, again no one can make a valid argument that they aren't just as good as their metro counterparts.

Perhaps part of the answer involves attitude. A win-at-all-costs mentality often permeates the thinking of parents, coaches and athletes from larger communities. A belief that a neighboring school is investing its time and money in athletics to one-up a rival might lead the other to follow suit. And on and on it goes.

That attitude rarely takes hold at the high school level -- nor should it -- in this neck of the woods.

Proctor softball coach Daryl Harper exemplified the Northland's attitude when, on the eve of his team's debut in the state tournament last June, he said: "Winning is great, but we don't play looking to win. We play for fun. If you win a few games, that's great. When you put winning as your No. 1 priority, it puts too much pressure on you."

Vince Lombardi's dictum -- "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" -- shouldn't come into play in high school. Participation and effort are the primary goals.

But winning every once in a while would be nice.

RICK WEEGMAN covers prep sports for the News Tribune. He can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or e-mailed at

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