Expansion is coming to the Mississippi Valley Conference in eastern Iowa. The high school athletic league -- of which Cedar Falls, Waterloo East and Waterloo West are members -- is growing from 14 to 16 teams.

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Western Dubuque has accepted an invitation to join the MVC. The district's Board of Education approved the move on a 3-2 vote Monday night (Jan. 9, 2017).

The Bobcats will be leaving the WaMaC Conference to join Iowa City Liberty as the newest members of the Mississippi Valley, starting with the 2018-19 season. Liberty is a brand new school that's scheduled to open in North Liberty in August. Liberty will be one of three Iowa City public schools in the MVC, once the league expands.

"We were a good teammate on this; we are happy and excited," West athletic director and long-time girls basketball coach Dr. Anthony Pappas wrote in an email, addressing conference expansion. "They were the best fit of all the schools we looked at. Geographically this makes the most sense and competition wise they are a very good fit for the vast majority of the sports."

Cedar Falls athletic director Gary Koenen echoed Pappas' statement in a separate email.

"We are just thrilled to have both schools in our conference," Koenen said. "We have already played Western Dubuque in many sports, along with Liberty at the lower levels. I have no doubt they will both be a great addition to our conference."

The Tigers and Wahawks were both part of the MVC's last expansion 25 years ago. Cedar Falls and West were among four schools -- along with East and Cedar Rapids Regis -- to join the league in 1992, when the conference grew from 10 teams to the current 14. In 1998, Regis merged with Cedar Rapids LaSalle to form Cedar Rapids Xavier.

Other current members of the Mississippi Valley Conference are: Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Rapids Washington, Dubuque Hempstead, Dubuque Senior, Dubuque Wahlert, Iowa City High, Iowa City West and Marion Linn-Mar.

"All 14 schools were in favor of expansion. There were no real objections at all," Koenen said. "The biggest concern was how we were going to schedule some sports if we had an odd number of teams. That was solved with the addition of Western Dubuque."

In terms of competition, Pappas noted that Western Dubuque has been "a (Class) 4A power for several years" in girls basketball. The rivalry formed by the MVC's expansion could create one of the most-competitive in Iowa. The annual games between the Bobcats and Waterloo West will feature two of the state's most-successful programs.

Koenen added: "Both Western Dubuque and Iowa City Liberty are natural fits to our conference. With the expansion of teams you always have increased competition bringing out a more competitive conference. I only see this as enhancing the strength of our conference. We will have to change our scheduling a bit for 16 teams and how we have done that in the past, but that can easily be worked through by athletic directors and coaches."

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