The Otters finished off the season sweep
of Alexandria with
a roster that's
determined to make a run at a state title
By Eric Morken
The Fergus Falls girls' basketball team showed last Friday night why the Otters are considered the clear favorites in the Section 8AAA field by running their winning streak to 13 games in a 55-39 contest in Alexandria.
These two teams have battled back and forth in the last two section finals with each team winning once. Those Otters' teams featured young players who are now loaded with experience. The result of that is a group that currently sits at the top of the Class 3A state rankings.
"They're really good," Alexandria junior guard Amanda Christianson said. "I don't know; we just need to cut down on our turnovers and rebound better and I think we can get them. We just need to be stronger with the ball and be more confident."
That's easier said than done against an Otters' defense that likes to get up and pressure teams near midcourt. Their length and athleticism, the staples of what has made Alexandria so dominant on defense in years past, made it tough on the Cardinals to find any consistency on offense. Both teams worked hard on that end of the floor as Alexandria and Fergus Falls each forced 21 turnovers.
Kalli Bowser took advantage of her touches down low as she finished with a team-high 16 points for the Cardinals. Christianson added 12 points as she battled through some soreness caused by a sprained thumb that she suffered against St. Cloud Tech on January 4. No other player finished in double figures for Alexandria.
"We put a tremendous emphasis on [defense] in practice," Fergus Falls head coach Brad Strand said. "Just because I've coached enough years that I know there are nights when the ball just doesn't go in the basket. We got to be able to get stops."
That defense helped the Otters keep Alexandria at an arm's length all night, despite the Cardinals holding them to their second lowest point total of the season. The only senior in the starting lineup for Fergus Falls had a big night as 6'2" post Hanna Swenson finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds. She forms a big and athletic front line with 6'1" junior Anna Monke, who chipped in 10 points and had five steals.
Junior Brianna Rasmusson is the steady lead guard that ties everything together on this team. Strand thought his star point guard might have broken a finger in practice the day before their game against Alexandria. After some treatment, she came out 24 hours later and put up 15 points. Included in that were a couple big threes in the second half that thwarted the Cardinals' attempt at a comeback.
"She's dynamite," Strand said. "For her to come out and play like this, it just shows how tough she is. I'm sure you get a little adrenaline pumping, but she's a quality player, no doubt about it."
Alexandria is left trying to figure out a way to slow down Rasmusson and the rest of her teammates if they should meet for a third time in the playoffs. That's something Strand said he could definitely see happening.
The Otters and Cardinals have met in the tournament each of the last three seasons. Alexandria won 4-of-6 games with Fergus Falls from 2009-2011. Since then, the Otters have won five straight against their conference and section rivals.
"I think it's big just because coach [Wendy] Kohler has such a good program," Strand said of the significance of another regular-season sweep this year. "We knew coming here it was going to be a tough place to play and her kids were going to be prepared, which obviously they were. So for us to get two wins against a team like that, it's big for our program. I think it's going to prep us and make us a better team as we enter March."
That's when the Otters hope to make their biggest statement. A year after finishing third at the state tournament, this team has its sights set on getting back to Minneapolis and finishing the job. Alexandria hopes it has one more opportunity to derail those plans.
"I think they're very motivated," Strand said of his team. "They work hard in practice every night. They want to learn, and they want to learn new things. Obviously, on a night like this the Alexandria Cardinals make us turn the ball over a few more times than we should, so it's not like we're polished by any means. Our job is to continue to get better. [Alexandria] showed some weaknesses that we have but our girls are very driven and very motivated to get back."
FERGUS FALLS 33 22 - 55
ALEXANDRIA 16 23 - 39
ALEXANDRIA LEADERS - Bowser - 16 points; Christianson - 12 points; Karly Betterman - 5 points; Sarah Bruzek - 4 points, Amanda Gould - 2 points
FERGUS FALLS - Rasmusson - 15 points; Swenson - 17 points, 11 rebounds; Bailey Strand - 9 points; Monke - 10 points