The Big Nine Conference just got bigger

Published 7:49pm Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Red Wing, Northfield bring conference to 12 teams

The Austin Packers will have a little more company in the Big Nine Conference next season.

The Big Nine executive committee voted Wednesday to add Red Wing and Northfield as new members, beginning in 2014-2015.

New Prague also applied to join the Big Nine, but its application was denied.

Austin Activities Director Lisa Quednow-Bickler said that Northfield, which has an enrollment of 1,173 and Red Wing, which has an enrollment of 809, are welcomed additions to the conference.

“We play them in so many sports in non-conference anyway. It’s a pretty natural and exciting addition,” she said. “They’re both original members of the conference so they’re coming back home so to speak.”

It remains to be seen how the Big Nine will handle the scheduling with a 12-team conference, but Quednow-Bickler said its possible that football, and possibly other sports, will be divided into a division of bigger schools and smaller schools.

“We want to make sure the rivalry games remain,” she said. “Austin would remain paired with Albert Lea.”

Austin head football coach Brett Vesel would look forward to his team playing a schedule of five smaller schools annually and two of bigger schools on a rotating basis.

“I think it would be good for us in football and in hockey,” Vesel said. “We’re pretty small to be playing those big schools, and anytime we can get a school close to our size on the schedule, we’ll take it.”

In soccer, teams will likely continue to play a round robin schedule and play each other once in the regular season, in baseball and softball there may be more doubleheaders and in basketball, the teams may just play 22 conference games. Nothing has been determined for certain yet.

Austin head boys basketball coach Kris Fadness said he wouldn’t mind playing 22 conference games, but it would limit teams to just four non-conference games and that could impact some of the holiday tournaments.

Fadness is glad to bring Red Wing into the conference as the have Packers played them at least once per season recently.

“Red Wing is vary similar to us in basketball. We’ve had a real nice series with them and it’ll make section seeding a little easier,” Fadness said. “I think (the addition) is good for the league. They’re similar to all of the Big Nine teams and it creates more balance.”

Individual sports will not have to go under any major changes with the addition, but the Packer gymnastics team just picked up another tough team to matchup during the regular season.

Northfield won two of the last four Class ‘AA’ state gymnastics titles, and it had the Class ‘AA’ all-around state champ in sophomore Bailey Dupay this past season. The Packers won the Big Nine and took third in the Class ‘A’ state meet last season. Austin had the Class ‘A’ all-around state champ in junior Sela Fadness last season.

“I think we already have the best conference in the state to begin with and with the addition of Northfield it only gets better. It can get to a point where our conference meet is almost as good as the state meet,” Austin head gymnastics coach Mark Raymond said. “Red Wing will also be nice program to watch grow over the next couple of years.”

Red Wing, Northfield and New Prague are currently in the Missota Conference.

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