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The Elks and Royals will take their rivalry to conference play this season, as Rogers embarks on their first year in the Northwest Suburban Conference. 

Rogers looks ahead to first season in Northwest Suburban Conference

by Jared Hines

Contributing Writer

After being a member of the Mississippi 8 Conference since the school opened in 2003, Rogers High School will become a member of the Northwest Suburban Conference for the foreseeable future.

The switch from the Mississippi 8 to the NWSC will bring many changes to the Royals schedule, and instead of playing teams like Buffalo, St. Michael and Monticello, Rogers will now face teams like Champlin Park, Maple Grove and Osseo.

St. Michael and Buffalo also left the Mississippi 8, leaving the conference with eight members with the addition of Becker in the 2019-20 season. The Bison and Knights are both off to the Lake Conference.

Aug 12 is the day that many of the fall sports are allowed to have practice for the first time.

“(The reaction has been) positive,” Ohlgren said about the change back in May when the change was first announced. “A survey showed that the majority of our coaches were in favor of the move. We are scared, nervous and optimistic — all in one feeling — (about the move).”

One positive — especially for Star News readers — is a renewed rivalry between Elk River and Rogers, beginning this year and likely extending for years to come. The two schools have always been rivals, especially in sports like football where they play in the same district and compete for a spot at the state tournament. Now though, this rivalry will extend to all sports, with Elk River being the closest NWSC school. Just 8.2 miles separate the two schools who have fought for rivalry trophies in boys and girls basketball since Rogers High School opened 16 years ago.

“I think we, as coaches, all knew that this move was going to eventually happen, and I am excited about the challenge and the opportunity to compete in the NWSC,” Royals head basketball coach Joe Belka said in May. “It is a great conference with many quality programs, but I am going to miss the relationships and rivalries that we have formed over the years in the Mississippi 8. The Mississippi 8 doesn’t get enough credit for the quality teams it produces. It is a great conference with many great coaches.”

For the move to happen, the school had to apply to enter the NWSC and also meet with other athletic and activities directors in the conference. While St. Michael, Buffalo and Rogers all applied to enter the conference, the NWSC ultimately selected Rogers into the conference, replacing Irondale, who will move into the Suburban East Conference this season.

Ohlgren said that the level of competition and travel were the two key factors that weighed into the decision on switching out of the Mississippi 8 Conference.

Competition level

With the huge increase in student enrollment, Rogers has moved into the highest class in every sport except for football over the last two years.

While many Mississippi 8 schools have also seen growth over the last few years, none have seen a hike quite like Rogers has. Schools like Big Lake, Princeton, and North Branch often play in a class lower than Rogers in many sports, giving critics a reason to doubt any success as the seasons progressed.

The discrepancy in classes among the schools also created an unfair advantage for the schools with higher enrollment. The switch to the NWSC puts Rogers on a much more even playing field, especially with the enrollment numbers continuing to rise. Many of the NWSC schools compete in the highest class for every sport, including football, where the top 32 schools (based on enrollment) all compete against each other, ending in a state tournament that resembles a mini “March Madness” bracket in November.

Jon Weisbrod of the Owatonna People’s Press went as far as saying that the continued increase in enrollment over the next two to four years might push Rogers into the 6A football class among many of their new rivals in the NWSC.

Travel

One of the biggest advantages of the recent change for the Royals is the travel schedule, which will prove to be much easier than the one the Royals have encountered for so many years.

Instead of trips to Chisago Lakes (52.6 miles), North Branch (56.1 miles) and Cambridge-Isanti (42.5 miles), the Royals will now cut many of those trips in half and the majority of the time decreasing it even more than that. Of the schools in the NWSC, the furthest one from Rogers High School is Centennial at 27.9 miles. Many of the schools in the NWSC are 15 miles or less from Rogers with traffic only being a slight concern for a couple of the trips.

The one exception to this rule is the 2019 Rogers football schedule. With Minnesota football playing in districts instead of conferences, the Royals will still travel to Cambridge-Isanti, St. Francis and Chisago Lakes this season.

Enrollment

When the MSHSL released the new enrollment numbers that will be used for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, Rogers came in at 1,511 students while Elk River came in at 1,602. The school with the highest enrollment in the Mississippi 8 now that Rogers, St. Michael-Albertville and Buffalo are all gone is Cambridge-Isanti with 1,316. St. Michael-Albertville has 1,989 while Buffalo has 1,720.

The rest of the Northwest Suburban Conference looks like this (listed highest to lowest)

Blaine: 2,652 (fourth highest in MN)

Champlin Park: 2,474 (eighth)

Maple Grove: 2,218 (11th)

Anoka: 2,037 (16th)

Centennial: 1,937 (19th)

Coon Rapids: 1,775 (24th)

Osseo: 1,756 (26th)

Robbinsdale Armstrong: 1,703 (30th)

Andover: 1,625 (35th)

Elk River: 1,602 (36th)

Park Center: 1,539 (39th)

Rogers: 1,511 (42nd)

Spring Lake Park: 1,489 (44th)

Totino-Grace: 697 (112th)

Elks vs. Royals

With the teams now on each other’s conference schedules, Star News readers will get to read a lot more about the battles between the Elks and the Royals, beginning this fall with these matchups:

— Sept. 12: girls swimming (VandenBerge Middle School).

— Sept. 17: girls tennis (Rogers High School).

— Sept. 19: volleyball (Elk River High School).

— Sept. 28: boys and girls soccer (doubleheader, Rogers High School).

— Oct. 10: boys and girls cross-country (Elk River Golf Club).

— Oct. 16: football (Rogers High School).

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