Here’s one last set of rankings as we head into the final week of the regular season. Next week’s rankings will come in the form of a section preview.
1. Duluth East (22-1)
-The Hounds didn’t overwhelm their opponents in a pair of rivalry games this past week, but they took care of business and began making some lineup and tactical tweaks for sections. The last week of the season is probably their easiest, and they should cruise to two victories.
This week: Tues at Hastings, Sat vs. Tartan
2. Minnetonka (20-3)
-The Skippers had an adventure in Wayzata on Saturday, but rallied to pull out a clutch win and maintain their grip on the 2-spot. Their ability to wear down the Trojans paid dividends, but the game also showed that nothing will come easy in sections, even in the semifinal. A huge potential playoff preview game lurks on Thursday; the Skippers could use some revenge against Eden Prairie, who beat them in late January.
This week: Thurs vs. #6 Eden Prairie, Sat at Buffalo
3. Maple Grove (20-2-1)
-The Crimson get perhaps the biggest benefit of the doubt I’ve ever given out in these rankings–the loss to Elk River is a serious blow, but with two wins over Edina, I can’t bring myself to move them any lower. The loss raises some real doubts about a team that has cruised through a conference lacking in elite teams. Are they truly ready for the big stage? I guess we’ll find out in the near future.
This week: Tues vs. North Metro, Sat at Osseo
4. Edina (19-4)
-The Hornets breezed through an easy week, giving them a chance to rest up for a tough closing act to their regular season. They’re on the road against Wayzata and Eden Prairie this week, which is no easy path, but the Lake Conference title is theirs to lose. Losses won’t cost them anything in terms of the section, but they could have implications for State seeding.
This week: Thurs at #8 Wayzata, Sat at #6 Eden Prairie
5. Eagan (20-2-1)
-The Wildcats’ title run gets a bit more complicated following a late-season tie against Bloomington Jefferson. There’s still an awful lot to like about this team, but at this point we can’t let them ride on reputation alone: they simply do not have the resume that the teams above them do. No, their schedule does not help, but hopefully the tie is a lesson that they can’t let up, even for a period. It’s crazy to think that they wouldn’t get seeded at State if all the top seeds go through, but there is a real chance that could happen. We’ll see how they respond this week against Burnsville and Prior Lake, both of whom they beat 8-2 in their first battles.
This week: Thurs vs. #12 Burnsville, Sat at Prior Lake
6. Eden Prairie (16-5-1)
-It was a positive week for the Eagles, who avenged a shutout loss to Wayzata from a few weeks ago. Despite all the graduations, this year’s squad has the exact same record as last year’s after 22 games. Given the strength of their schedule, that’s quite the achievement. Their last week, however, is a nasty one; after a non-conference game against a decent Apple Valley team, they play at Minnetonka and host Edina. It’s tempting to put them higher given the early-season win over Eagan; if they get one win this week, they will probably edge ahead of the Wildcats. There’s still a slight chance of earning the top seed in the section.
This week: Tues at Apple Valley, Thurs at #2 Minnetonka, Sat vs. #4 Edina
7. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (17-6)
-As was expected, the Red Knights lost to Shattuck. But they did pull out a very important win against Wayzata on Monday, which guarantees them a top-3 seed and shows they can take down a difficult opponent when the pressure’s on. A shutout of Totino-Grace, which has some firepower, is also a good sign. Their closing week is not a difficult one.
This week: Tues at Chisago Lakes, Sat vs. Stillwater
8. Wayzata (13-9-1)
-It was one of those weeks in the rankings that made little sense: the Trojans went 0-3 and moved up two spots. Why? A couple of upsets of teams ahead of them helped, and they gave their three 6AA rivals some pretty good games that could probably go the other way in sections if enough goes right. They’re a step behind them in terms of depth, but the same could be said for a lot of the teams right below them, and their win over Hill is enough to hold off the climbing Pioneers. They have another tough one against Edina coming up this week.
This week: Thurs vs. #4 Edina, Sat at Hopkins
9. Hill-Murray (17-6)
-Monday’s win over Lakeville South was a nice boost for the Pioneers, though the tight contest against North St. Paul leaves open some room for doubt in sections. They may not have the customary Hill depth or defensive dominance, but they seem to be getting the job done all the same recently. They have one more important game coming up this Saturday that will help show where they fit in amongst the state’s top teams.
This week: Tues at Tartan, Sat vs. #10 Moorhead
10. Moorhead (17-5)
-It was not a great week for the Spuds: they lost a rough game to Blaine, and Bemidji took them to overtime, showing they could have a real challenge on their hands in sections. To top it off, the loss to Grand Rapids now looks noticeably worse after the Thunderhawks fell against Hibbing. But they can reverse some of these trends with a strong showing against Brainerd, and especially Hill-Murray, in the coming days.
This week: Tues at Brainerd, Sat at #9 Hill-Murray
11. Lakeville South (15-8)
-The week was a mixed bag for the Cougars; they got the all-important win over Lakeville North, but the margin wasn’t large enough to assure them of anything, and the Hill loss keeps them from making a run at the top ten. The Apple Valley win was a nice boost, too. They face one last season-closing test against Burnsville on Saturday.
This week: Thurs at Bloomington Kennedy, Sat at #12 Burnsville
12. Burnsville (14-8-1)
-The Blaze edged out Apple Valley for a third consecutive win against mid-level South Suburban competition. That’s a good sign for a team that struggled through the month of January, but now it’s time for some major season-ending tests. If the Blaze perform well this week, Edina should be paying attention; however, neither game against particularly close the first time they played these two teams.
This week: Thurs at #5 Eagan, Sat vs. #11 Lakeville South
13. Elk River (13-8-2)
-What a tumultuous week for the Elks: they may have lost their longtime coach, but the players on the team proved their mettle by taking down Maple Grove. It’s quite the win as they forge ahead into the post-Sarsland era; we’ll see if they can keep it going as they head into sections.
This week: Tues at Osseo, Sat vs. North Metro
14. Blaine (15-8)
-The Bengals had a very strong week, making up for some recent struggles with a convincing win over Moorhead and a narrow one over Andover. The win restores some confidence in an up-and-down team and sets up an interesting meeting with Centennial later this week.
This week: Thurs vs. Robbinsdale Armstrong, Sat at Centennial
15. Grand Rapids (18-6)
-The loss to Hibbing negates the bump the Thunderhawks got from their win over Moorhead, and re-ignites some of the doubts about them as they head into sections. They’ve shown they can play with anyone in the state when they’re on, but the consistency just has not been there.
This week: Tues at Duluth Denfeld
The Next Ten
-Didn’t manage a win against Centennial or Blaine; while there’s still plenty to like about this team, they still haven’t managed a significant win against anyone other than Elk River. They still probably deserve the 2-seed in their section, but in a tightly-packed 7AA, that doesn’t guarantee much. Their closing week is relatively easy, with games against Coon Rapids and Champlin Park.
-The Cougars had a positive week, tying an Andover team that was ahead of them and scoring an emphatic win over Osseo. They’ve shown some real signs of improvement in recent weeks; can they carry that over into a re-match with Blaine this week? If so, they’ll have a shot at the 2-seed in 5AA.
-The Jacks were another team with a strong showing in the past week, playing a relatively close game with the top team in the state and beating a decent Stillwater team. They’re now in the clubhouse with a somewhat better-than-expected season and can prepare for a challenging 7AA quarterfinal.
Prior Lake (14-9)
-Won easily in their game against Rosemount, but now face a difficult final week, including a Thursday contest against Bloomington Jefferson with section seeding implications and a season finale against Eagan, who took them apart the first time around.
Apple Valley (10-10-2)
-It was a goalless week for the Eagles, but they did a decent job of keeping Burnsville and Lakeville South within striking distance. It was the sort of week that reflected their season: respectable, but not quite enough to get the big win. They have a tough game against Eden Prairie this week, though they have a couple of weak SSC teams after that.
White Bear Lake (13-9-1)
-The Bears had a very strong week, as they locked up the 2-seed in 4AA with a convincing win over Stillwater and beat Forest Lake to earn another Suburban East title. In the end, it was about what we expected; they had some struggles, but they also gave a couple of top-end teams some tight games and proved the class of a muddled conference. They did lose to both of this week’s opponents, Mounds View and Hastings, the first time they played; we’ll see if they can build any momentum heading into sections.
-A second win over Roseau is a pretty good sign the Warriors belong in the top 25. If they can hang in there against Moorhead this week, they could wind up with a decent shot in 8AA.
Bloomington Jefferson (6-14-3)
-As awful as that record is, the Jaguars have shown they’re a dangerous team in the past few weeks, with a win over Burnsville and a tie against Eagan. This week is a big chance to show they really have improved, with games against Prior Lake and Lakeville North.
Lakeville North (11-12)
-The lost to Lakeville South costs the Panthers the top seed in 1AA, but they’re still good enough to be a threat in sections. The Jefferson game this week will be an interesting one.
-The Lumberjacks’ season has had its ups and downs, but in the end they still have a pretty good shot in 8AA and deserve to be recognized for that. A test against Thief River Falls this week will help tell us if they deserve to stay in the top 25.
Honorable Mention: Roseau, Stillwater, Roseville.
11 Lakeville South
(24) Lakeville North
-South’s win over North should get them the top seed and the last line change in the championship game, as these two are all but assured to be playing in the final in two and a half weeks. Even if North wins it, this is probably the best top two this section has put out in a while.
(19) Prior Lake
(23) Bloomington Jefferson
-No real change here in recent weeks; Burnsville locked itself in as #2 by beating Prior Lake. Bloomington Jefferson and Prior Lake meet to decide the 3-seed this week, and the loser will be #4, with Chanhassen at #5 and Holy Angels at #6. We’ll see if the coaches doing the seeding are as intrigued by a possible AHA-Jefferson game as some of us fans are.
(20) Apple Valley
-No surprises at the top, which is the same as it’s been all season. After that, it’s a mess. Eastview, despite its struggles, is undefeated against the SEC; that might be enough for the 3-seed. Cretin has the best resume of the SEC teams, followed by Hastings; I would put them at 4 and 5.
(21) White Bear Lake
-WBL’s win over Stillwater means the seeds are just about set, with no surprises anywhere. Mounds View, though inconsistent, has been coming along lately and could pose an upset threat. But the biggest news here may be North St. Paul’s very tight loss to Hill-Murray; the Polars have a game with Mounds View this week, and a win could put them in line for a higher seed and set them up to cause some problems in sections.
3 Maple Grove
-Another section that has seen practically no movement amongst the top seeds. Centennial and Blaine do meet again this week, so there’s a chance the Cougars could slip in and steal the 2-seed–both have been playing relatively well lately. This week’s Champlin Park-Anoka game will probably decide the 4-seed, with the loser coming in at #5. Osseo has been fading lately and should end up #6.
6 Eden Prairie
7 Benilde-St. Margaret’s
-After a bunch of easy-to-rank sections, we have this one. Wayzata’s 0-3 week consigns them to the 4-seed. The big question: can Eden Prairie take the top seed if they beat Minnetonka a second time? In my opinion, only if they can also beat Edina this week, thereby earning a share of the conference title. If Minnetonka beats EP, we do have a tough decision on who to give the 2-seed; I would argue that EP has had the somewhat better season and deserves the last line change in a likely semifinal match-up with Benilde.
1 Duluth East
13 Elk River
15 Grand Rapids
-Four teams between #13 and #18 tells you all you need to know about the muddled middle of this section. Andover’s lack of bad losses and 2-0 record vs. Elk River should probably give them the 2-seed, while Cloquet’s resume against a weak schedule isn’t quite good enough to move them up from #5. Meanwhile, Elk River got the big non-conference win they needed to secure a spot in the top 3, which will likely force Grand Rapids into the #4 spot. Still, I wouldn’t be shocked by a different order in this week’s seeding meeting.
-I think we can lock this section in. Moorhead secures the top spot with a win over Bemidji; even if they lose to Brainerd this week they’ve done enough to earn it. Despite some rocky stretches, Bemidji has done enough to claim the 2-seed, and has also given Moorhead two very tight games. With a 2-0 record against Roseau, Brainerd slots in at #3, and Roseau, despite one win over Bemidji, gets saddled with the 4-seed. No matter what, it’s a nice set-up for two quality semifinals.