The powerhouse Lake Conference, home to five of the state’s most successful high school sports programs, will get two new members — St. Michael-Albertville and Buffalo — starting in 2019-20.
Those schools have been competing in the Mississippi 8 Conference, but their growth had led them to seek membership in a new conference. Both had petitioned unsuccessfully last year to join the Lake Conference after efforts to join the Northwest Suburban Conference were turned down.
That left the matter in the hands of the Minnesota State High School League, which subsequently recommended putting them in the Lake Conference. A league committee considered factors including enrollment, levels of competition and geographic distance.
Officials at Buffalo and St. Michael-Albertville were notified of the recommendation on Monday. Activities directors at both indicated Tuesday that they are moving forward with plans to schedule games as a conference member starting next fall.
The Lake consists of Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Wayzata, all of which routinely field teams that advance to state tournaments. The Lake has had many iterations over the years with a bigger number of teams. St. Michael-Albertville and Buffalo are the first to join the conference since 2010.
The new alignment covers all sports and activities excluding football, which has scheduling governed by league-created districts.
Travel distance, especially with buses on congested metro freeways during rush hour, was cited as a factor when the Lake Conference rejected the two schools’ bid to join before. Buffalo and St. Michael-Albertville, in the northwest metro, are 35 to 40 miles from Edina.
Still, “We believe overall [the Lake] is the best fit,’’ for the schools, said Erich Martens, the high school league’s executive director.
Traveling south for games is not a concern at St. Michael-Albertville, which resides in a section requiring much longer bus rides to and from northern schools including Brainerd, Moorhead and Bemidji, Knights activities director Keith Cornell said.
“It’s really about opportunity for our kids,’’ Cornell said. For example, the Knights have four levels of boys’ and girls’ soccer but some Mississippi 8 schools have just two or three, he said. St. Michael-Albertville is also fielding teams from a student base twice as large as some of its current conference opponents.
Starting next fall, however, t St. Michael-Albertville, with 1,804 students, and Buffalo, with 1,725 students, will be among the smallest in the Lake, most comparable to Hopkins, with 1,838 students, according to high school league figures. Wayzata and Minnetonka are the largest Lake schools, with more than 3,000 students each.