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Senior Taylor Croal, left, returns for a Coon Rapids team that placed fourth in last year's state tournament. Photo by Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

There's no telling just yet how the Northwest Suburban Conference race will end, given that conference games have just begun because of another extended winter.

We do know that this league produced a big-school state champion in 2008 in Coon Rapids, a runner-up in 2011 in Maple Grove and should again have its top team in the championship mix this season.

Just which team that will be remains a mystery. Maple Grove was ranked No. 8 and Champlin Park No. 10 in the preseason, but Champlin Park's 8-0 rout of Maple Grove on April 15 gives the Rebels some early Northwest Suburban cred.

Coon Rapids was the league's lone state tournament representative last year (the Cardinals finished in fourth place) and is off to a 2-0 start. The Cardinals return one of the state's top players in pitcher/outfielder and University of Minnesota commit Alex Boxwell.

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