High school sports fans will notice a few changes this fall to one of the state’s most distinguished athletic conferences as the 2019-20 season begins. The Lake Conference has added two new members — Buffalo and St. Michael-Albertville — to increase membership from five schools to seven.
Original members Eden Prairie, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Wayzata have been saddled with scheduling difficulties ever since schools with smaller enrollments such as Richfield, Robbinsdale Armstrong, Robbinsdale Cooper and St. Louis Park left the conference for reasons associated with competitive balance.
According to data on the Minnesota High School League website, Wayzata (3,276 students), Minnetonka (3,198 students) and Eden Prairie (2,732 students) are the three largest high schools in the state. Edina is seventh with 2,628 students and Hopkins is 22nd with 1,856 students.
St. Michael-Albertville ranks 17th overall and will be the fifth-largest school in the conference, ahead of Hopkins, with an enrollment of 1,989. Buffalo will start its tenure as the smallest school in the conference and 27th largest in the state with 1,720 students.
The addition of Buffalo and St. Michael-Albertville will lead to slightly longer commutes to and from games for both student-athletes and spectators.
In the previous conference alignment, the longest drive was 16 miles between Eden Prairie and Wayzata high schools. A trip from Eden Prairie to Buffalo is 38 miles, while a trip from Eden Prairie to St. Michael-Albertville is similar at 37 miles.
Still, the pros seem to outweigh the cons with the new alignment. The communities in both Buffalo and St. Michael-Albertville have invested money in recent years to upgrade their athletic facilities.
The two new schools offer a full slate of varsity athletic programs similar to the five original schools, with a few exceptions. Buffalo and St. Michael-Albertville do not field varsity programs in alpine skiing, Nordic skiing or synchronized swimming.
As far as competitiveness and historical success, St. Michael-Albertville appears to have a slight edge over Buffalo.
In recent history, some of St. Michael-Albertville’s strongest programs included wrestling, football and girls basketball.
The football program has made 10 state tournament appearances since 1997, including a Class 5A state championship in 2015. The program has advanced to the quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons in the new 32-team Class 6A state tournament.
The Knights have won eight state wrestling championships, including one large-school Class 3A title in 2018. The wrestling program also boasts 39 individual state champions — the sixth most in state history.
The girls basketball program at St. Michael-Albertville has made nine state tournament appearances since 2000, including a Class 2A state title in 2001 and a Class 3A state title in 2009.
Buffalo High School won its first-ever state championship in 2007 in boys basketball. In 2009, the school’s boys track and field team won the Class 2A team title.