MANKATO — For this year, Mankato West activities director Brian Fell wants to learn all he can about his new school and its programs.
"I just want to make sure things operate smoothly," he said, sitting in his West office, sunglasses at the ready as he prepares to visit each of the Scarlets' teams' first practice Monday. "I want to get to know the people and work with everyone. I don't have a set agenda."
Fell, who is replacing Ken Essay, has been on the job for about six weeks, meeting with coaches, parents and athletes. He's tried to make sure the schedules are set and supplies have been ordered, but Monday was the first day of practices, meaning he had to make sure that eligibility and medical forms were turned in and fees were paid.
"People at West are very organized, and they are passionate and proud about their teams," he said. "We have a lot of good things going."
The West football team will try to get back to the state tournament, where it lost in the quarterfinals last season. The girls swimming and diving team is coming off a fourth-place finish at the state meet, best in program history, led by three-time state champion Danielle Nack, now a senior.
"We have some teams that have a chance to go really far," Fell said. "Some of our athletes are going to provide a lot of exciting performances."
New tennis courts won't be ready for the opening matches later this week, but Fell said he expects the courts to be in use by sometime next week.
For the first time in more than three decades, Mankato East/Loyola has a new girls swimming and diving coach as Amanda Stevens replaces Tim Johnson. The Cougars will also be playing on new tennis courts, which open today.
Big Nine Conference football will be playing its final season with 10 teams as Red Wing and Northfield join in 2014. The Cougars' boys soccer team advanced to the Class A state tournament last season.
"A new season means a new start, and I think everybody's kind of chomping at the bit," East activities director Todd Waterbury said.
There aren't any changes at Mankato Loyola, where activities director John Landkamer said the football, volleyball, boys and girls soccer and boys and girls cross country teams all have returning coaches.
"The kids are excited," he said. "It's the first day back in the routine."
Loyola senior Wyatt Elmer participated in the Class A boys cross country meet last season, finishing 52nd, and eighth-grader Kyla Haas placed 44th in the girls meet.