Dom Valento

Owatonna’s Dom Valento (18) handles the puck in the offensive zone, while Faribault's Zach Siegert (11) shuffles his feet to stay in front. Both Valento and Siegert are back as seniors this season, and will face off Jan. 16 as part of a busy first three days of the winter sports season around the area. (File Photo/southernminn.com)

One week from now, we'll all have high school sports competitions to sink our teeth into.

In-person practices started Monday around the state of Minnesota, and many teams will start their seasons Thursday, Jan. 14, while the rest will take part in their first competition in the following days.

Peeking ahead to those first three days of games, and it appears we're sprinting into the season at full speed rather than slowly wading back in.

That first night of games features a boys basketball matchup in which an Owatonna team that finished fifth in the Big 9 Conference last season and returns the bulk of its experience is hosting Mankato East, which finished 22-0 in the conference in 2019-20, but graduated a total of eight seniors.

In Gopher Conference boys basketball that night, defending conference champs Waterville-Elysian Morristown is starting its season at home against last season's third-place team, Hayfield, while last season's second-place team Blooming Prairie is starting its season the next night at Bethlehem Academy.

Friday, Jan. 15, also includes what might be the most important regular-season wrestling match in the Big 9 this season. Northfield finished undefeated conference champions last season before Owatonna surged to a one-point victory in the Section 1AAA final. A year before that, those roles were switched with the Huskies cruising through the regular season unblemished before the Raiders pulled off the section final upset. They will face off in Owatonna on Friday in the final match of a triangular that also includes Pine Island.

Also on Jan. 15, the girls basketball trio of Blooming Prairie, Medford and W-E-M start their seasons after they finished first, second and third in the Gopher Conference a season ago.

Then, Saturday, Jan. 16, the Owatonna and Faribault boys hockey teams — last season's second- and fifth-place finishers in the Big 9 — will battle that afternoon in Owatonna for early position in a conference that's up for grabs after two-time defending champion Rochester Century graduated the bulk of its offensive firepower.

Elsewhere on Jan. 16, the Faribault Emeralds dance team will join Owatonna in traveling to Northfield a year in the season-opening meet after they once again claimed section titles in both the kick and jazz disciplines.

Those events are only a snippet of all that's happening in the first three days of the winter high school sports season, and are merely leading into what should be a really, really fun next three months.

Next week, in the days leading up to those first competitions, we'll start rolling out season preview capsules for all 30 teams located within the coverage areas for the Faribault Daily News and Owatonna People's Press.

Located within each capsule will be full rosters, schedules and breakdowns of key dates, games and matchups for every team throughout the next few months.

We hope these previews — which will be published in the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday editions of the paper next week — will serve to inform and educate readers not only through their first read, but can also be held onto to serve as a reference point at any point this season.

Reach Sports Editor Michael Hughes at 645-1106 or follow him on Twitter @APGSoMnHughes. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

Sports Editor for the Northfield News. Also a California native looking for tips on surviving the winter and an Indiana University grad on the quest for a good breaded pork tenderloin.

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