Section 8AAA girls' basketball: Alexandria is not backing down
Section 8AAA girls' basketball championship
Alexandria vs. Fergus Falls
Friday, March 8, 7:30 p.m.
St. John's University, Collegeville
To those outside the locker room, tonight's Section 8AAA girls' basketball title game at St. John's University may seem like an opportunity at a huge upset for Alexandria. For the players and coaches, they don't necessarily see it that way.
"We will prepare for this game to win," Cardinals head coach Wendy Kohler said. "We know that we can compete with anyone, and our team is confident in each other. We have a team that has bought into the concepts of no stars, all equal. Everyone will have to do their part to be successful. Fergus is a very solid team with a lot of weapons, but we will be prepared and aware of what we need to do to be successful."
It's easy to see why this program has a hard time seeing itself as too much of an underdog. The Cardinals are about to play in their fourth straight section title game. Simply put, they are exactly where they thought they would be coming into this season.
The team they face tonight is in the same position. Fergus Falls will join Alexandria in the section title game for the third straight year. These teams have split those previous two contests, with the Otters winning 66-45 a year ago before going on to take third at the state tournament.
That was supposed to be the pinnacle of this team's success. After all, Fergus Falls was losing high-profile players off that team like Mariah Monke, Sydney Schultz and Haylie Zenner. The Otters also lost their head coach in the off-season after Josh Mohagen took over as the head men's coach at Minnesota State Community and Technical College.
Even after all those departures, the Otters' resume indicates that this team might be even better than a year ago. Fergus Falls is perfect on the season after running its winning streak to 28 games with its 53-38 win over Sartell-St. Stephen in the section semifinals on Saturday. The Otters are beating teams by almost 27 points per game on their way to earning the No. 1 ranking in the Class AAA polls.
"They have a lot of skill on that team," Alexandria's senior center Kalli Bowser said after her team's opening-round win in the section tournament. "We'll just have to see what it comes down to."
At that point, the Cardinals still had to get past a 25-2 Thief River Falls team if they wanted a third shot at the Otters this season. They did that with a 50-40 win on Saturday night. Now Alexandria has its sights set on avenging a couple of earlier losses to Fergus Falls.
The Otters were dominant in a 73-43 game the first time these two teams met on December 4. Alexandria kept it a lot closer the second time around before falling 55-39 on January 18.
That's part of the progress this team has made since the start of the season. The Cardinals had to replace plenty of talent themselves this winter after losing a combined 957 points, 415 rebounds and 239 steals with the graduation of Lauren Trumm, Whitney Gesell and Cara Wood.
That meant there were plenty of girls who had to move into expanded roles at the varsity level. The goal was to get better with every game as those players gained experience. This group has done that to the point where they have now won 10 of their last 11 coming into tonight and seem to be playing their best basketball of the season.
"We are not the same team that Fergus played [in January]," Kohler said. "We have changed in many areas of the game, and this is right where we thought we would be if we developed. Every year, our goal is to be in contention for the CLC and section titles. We are not giddy and just excited to be here. We will go in and be prepared to challenge a very talented Otter team."
Slowing down Fergus Falls will likely start with containing junior guard Brianna Rasmusson. She can do a little bit of everything as a 1,000-point scorer and the school's all-time assists leader in her career. Rasmusson had 15 points, including a couple of big threes in the second half that helped her team hold off Alexandria the last time they met.
The Otters are also anchored by athletic post players in 6'1" junior Anna Monke and 6'2" senior Hanna Swenson. Swenson finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds during their win over the Cardinals on January 18.
Alexandria knows it will be a tall task trying to hand Fergus Falls its first loss of the season tonight. But the Cardinals are a proud program that didn't get that way by backing down.
"Fergus has a lot of weapons, but we will be prepared," Kohler said. "Our girls have worked very hard in practice and the off-season. We may not have the headliner names, but I do know that they have one name in common, Alex. We have a bunch of athletes that play hard and together. We will give it all we got and see where it goes."