As previously detailed in an article published last week, the formula used to create a definitive All-Sports Standings is an inexact science, and the Gopher Conference is even trickier than the Big Nine.
There’s less teams, less sports, an intra-league cooperative, a greater percentage of athletic programs that don’t sponsor activities and a football landscape that is even more scattered.
But what’s the harm? Punching in the numbers isn’t that difficult and I still think there is some value in producing an All-Sports list. I guess if there wasn’t, I wouldn’t be writing this article.
Anyway, I tackled (pun intended) the football issue by utilizing the overall Quality Results Formula rankings and attaching points (1-8) based on this list, with one exception: I flipped Maple River and Blooming Prairie. The Eagles were technically rated higher than the Awesome Blossoms, but the latter won the Class A state championship — in convincing fashion I might add — and finished 13-0. Maple River, a Class AA program, undoubtedly put together a great season and endured a tough schedule, but exited the postseason in the section semifinals and finished 7-3, so I think that I did was fair.
I used the QRF instead of the traditional district standings because the eight Gopher Conference teams are housed in four different leagues. It just seemed logical to utilize an objective, albeit somewhat flawed, master list provided by Minnesota-scores.net.
Another major hurdle I ran into was Faribault Bethlehem Academy’s limited athletic opportunities in the fall and winter. Of the seven total sports in those two seasons, the Cardinals offer just four as non-cooperative options (volleyball, football, boys basketball, girls basketball). There is no perfect formula in this scenario, so I used the same method as I did in the Big Nine and gave FBA six points apiece in boys cross country, girls cross country and wrestling, reflecting their average position in the four sports they do offer.
In wrestling, Blooming Prairie and Hayfield join forces as the Westfield Razorbacks, and in an effort to not complicate the issue any further, I simply handed out two points apiece to BPHS and HHS in this sport.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the results.
Paralleling the Big Nine, the race for the top three positions was tight, but it was W-E-M that emerged as the undisputed All-Sports Cup champion with 15 points.
The two Steele County schools were separated by just a single point for the next two spots with Blooming Prairie (20) coming in second and Medford (21) third.
The remaining standings went like this: 4. Maple River (27); 5. Hayfield (28); 6. NRHEG (30); 7. USC (36), 8. Bethlehem Academy (42)
FACTS, TRENDS, DATA
-The Buccaneers have long-since established a reputation as a consistent and universally-successful athletics program, and this year was no different. W-E-M finished in the top three in six of the seven sports and won or shared exactly 57.1% of the conference championships.
-As mentioned, Blooming Prairie and Medford put together a pair of great fall and winter campaigns. Each claimed sole-possession of at least one league championship, combined for three regular season titles and nine top three finishes. The Tigers won the Gopher Conference boys cross country meet and ended tied for first place with W-E-M in girls basketball. As far as the regular season goes, the Blossoms’ lone blue ribbon came in football. Blooming Prairie, though, was in the conference hunt until the final week of the season in both boys and girls basketball with the former winning the Section 1-A title.
-Though Maple River was awarded two points in the All-Sports Cup for football despite technically finishing atop its district (see explanation in fifth paragraph of this article), the Eagles claimed two conference titles. On the other end of the spectrum, they also ended sixth or lower in two of the seven total sports.
-United South Central is the only athletics program that finished both first (football) and last (girls basketball, volleyball) in 2019-2020.
-When breaking down the numbers by season, easily the most interesting storyline to emerge was that the top four teams in the winter sports standings were separated by just two points. Surprisingly, the school that led the way, Blooming Prairie, do so without claiming a single championship in the span, but racked up just seven points by virtue of two second place finishes (boys basketball, wrestling) and one third place finish (girls basketball). Overall winner, W-E-M, finished atop the league in both boys and girls basketball, but ended sixth in wrestling and tied with Medford with eight points in the winter. Buoyed by its title in wrestling, Maple River was next with nine points.