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Class act: more teams and athletes will have a chance at state this year

There have already been a lot of changes for area athletes and coaches this season. Masks and social distancing are gone — at least for now — and fans are going to be back in the stands.

However, one of the biggest changes has to do with who local athletes will be competing against. The MSHSL is going to give more teams a chance to get to the state tournament as an extra class has been added to soccer, volleyball, cross country and track and field. Soccer, cross country and track and field will have three classes, and volleyball will have four.

The change means the Austin boys soccer team will have a slightly different path than in the past if it wants to get to its fifth straight state tournament this fall.

The Packers, who will move from Class A to Class AA, will still see familiar section opponents like Byron and Winona, but Waseca has taken the place of perennial rival Rochester Lourdes.

“We will still want to be competitive in the conference and in the section,” said Austin head coach Jens Levisen. “The goal is to make it to that section final and play for the opportunity to go to state. We have teams that we will be familiar with and Waseca as a new face.”

The Packer girls soccer team has never played in a state tournament, but head coach Jake Levisen said the changes aren’t going to change how his team does things. Austin is still going to strive for the most positive outcome.

“We know that the most important mindset is to be relentless and play Austin soccer,” Jake said. “There are many quality teams throughout all sections but our focus is not on anyone else but on the continued development of our team and pushing ourselves to be the best.”

For area runners, the new changes mean an entirely different field of competition and an entirely different course. Instead of competing in Owatonna for the section meet, the Packers are likely to run in Faribault. Instead of going against top teams like Rosemount, Farmington, and Rochester and Lakeville schools, the Packers will be running against smaller, but tough teams like Zumbrota/Mazeppa, Winona and Faribault.

Austin, which will now run in Class AA, has had plenty of state runners in past years, and now that path to state may be a little less crowded.

“The competition level is still pretty high. Zumbrota has some fantastic runners, Winona is always tough and Faribault has some good runners,” said Austin head coach Tony Einertson. “Do we move up a little bit? Of course we do. We are going to be one of the bigger teams in the section, so we should have some kids that are competing for spots at state this year.”

While schools of all sizes can produce quality runners, the mystique of going against the big city schools will no longer be looming over Austin runners. Senior Nadia Vaughn said that some of the pressure of competition has now slipped away.

“We always used to be so nervous about going against those big schools, because they’re so good,” Vaughn said. “Now we don’t really know the teams, but we’re up there with them.”