Recent conference expansion prompted tough scheduling choices for some Southeast Conference volleyball programs in preparation for the upcoming 2014 season. Randolph becomes the 11th net program in the SEC. The Rockets will make the SEC West Division a six-team race while the SEC East remains a five-team affair.
Traditionally, each team plays a double round robin schedule in its own division plus one crossover match versus the other division squads. All 13 matches have counted in the division standings; there are two division champions with no overall title.
In years past, those 13 conference matches have left only four non-conference dates that could be scheduled before reaching the 17-date maximum allowed for volleyball.
For SEC East teams — Mabel-Canton, Spring Grove, Lanesboro, Houston and Hope Lutheran — an additional crossover match versus Randolph means 14 SEC matches, reducing the non-league possibilities to only three.
In the West Division, the usual double round robin format would add two SEC matches for each squad. But that group has decided to drop one match from a complete double round robin schedule. So all returning league members will now play 14 SEC matches instead of 13.
For those who have been playing the maximum 17 dates, some former non-league opponent must now be dropped.
Regular season weekend tournaments count only as one playing date, the same as one dual match. Most coaches prefer not to drop the extended and varied competition provided by a tournament.
Mabel-Canton has been playing three tournaments plus one dual match versus Caledonia. That neighborhood Cougar-Warrior match-up between traditional Class A and Class AA powerhouses has been a fan favorite for the past six years. But the series will be interrupted. The Cougars will again host their own tournament and make trips to Pierz and Burnsville for high-powered tournament competition.
The omission also solves a scheduling problem for the Warriors, which must make way for a new league match as La Crescent joins the Three Rivers Conference.
Spring Grove traditionally has been playing two tournaments plus two non-conference matches with Rushford-Peterson and Caledonia. The Caledonia match has become an annual "come dressed in pink" fundraiser for cancer research. Highly popular among both student bodies, the Lion-Warrior charity match will continue. However, after nine straight seasons, the SG versus R-P dual will not be played this year.
But like Caledonia in the TRC, Rushford-Peterson had to make room on its schedule for new conference rival La Crescent.
Lanesboro played only 15 dates last year. Besides adding Randolph this season, the Burros have 17 dates scheduled including one tournament and the annual neighborhood showdown with Fillmore Central. Lanesboro also adds Rushford-Peterson for the first time in four years.
Leaving the Gopher Conference, Randolph hopes for a more competitive fit in the SEC. With only one winning season in the past nine years, the Rockets graduated three seniors from last year's 8-16 team.
But Randolph could contend for the SEC West title, having won non-conference matches last year against SEC West champion Lyle/Pacelli and division runner-up Grand Meadow.
Volleyball practices may begin on Aug. 11.