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Section cross country: Cardinals add another notch to their legacy

Alexandria's Keaton Gruber runs toward the finish line during the Section 8, Class AA meet in Fergus Falls on Thursday with teammate Jackson Wichtendahl not far behind. Gruber won the boys race in 16:56.4, while Wichtendahl was second in 17:00.4. (Robert Williams / Forum News Service)1 / 2
Alexandria sophomore Bethany Miller races at the Pebble Creek Golf Course in Fergus Falls on Thursday. Miller finished third at the Section 8, Class AA meet in 19:57.7 to help the Cardinals to the state meet with a second-place finish. (Robert Williams / Forum News Service)2 / 2

The Alexandria cross country teams have a long history of excellence over the course of the last 40 years.

The Cardinal boys have been to 30 state meets as a team since 1976. The girls have been there 21 times. Add another one to the list for both programs.

Alexandria went to Fergus Falls for the Section 8, Class AA meet on Thursday in some tough conditions with high winds and temperatures hovering in the 30s. They persevered through all of it as both the boys and girls finished in second place to punch their tickets to St. Olaf on Nov. 4.

“We prepare for this day, whether it be hot or like today with 32 degree temps and windy,” Alexandria head coach Travis Hochhalter said. “It was not a beautiful day, but we all had the same conditions to run on this day. We are so proud of these athletes in the little things they do. We had a ton of gutsy races.”

The Alexandria boys were two points away from securing the championship. Sartell won the meet with 54 points behind four top-15 finishes. The Cardinals were second with 56 points, aided by a first and second place finish, respectively, for seniors Keaton Gruber and Jackson Wichtendahl.

Hochhalter said the weather played a role in the whole field of racers going out a bit slower than normal. Once Gruber and Wichtendahl warmed up, they had another gear than the rest. Gruber finished in 16:56.4, while Wichtendahl came across in 17:00.4.

“It was something to watch when they were running together like they do in every practice,” Hochhalter said. “It made sense and they had the confidence it took on a day like today. Great senior leadership and dedication.”

Fellow senior Nolan Christensen wasn’t far behind both of his teammates. He finished eighth in 17:13.5. Senior Kyle Vandertuin was 16th (17:26.7) and junior Patrick Chromey was 29th (18:01.1) to round out the scoring. Junior Noah Struck finished 55th in 18:42.4 and senior Blake Johnston finished off the lineup (66th, 18:51.3).

“We work all season long for this day and it worked out well for us,” Hochhalter said. “We always have had the confidence and the poise to be a great team at the end of the season.”

Hochhalter had that same confidence in this girls team as the runners progressed throughout the season. The Cardinals are a young group without a single senior running at sections, but they ran with experience on their way to 87 points. Moorhead won the meet with 82.

“This group of girls is amazing and very talented,” Hochhalter said. “We have been working hard and staying committed. A couple weeks ago things really started to click, and we took it one day at a time and kept working hard.”

The Cardinals are led by sophomore Bethany Miller and her sister, eighth grader Aleah. Bethany paced Alexandria with a third-place finish in 19:57.7, while Aleah was right behind her in fourth place in a time of 20:07.

“Bethany and Aleah are fierce competitors and do all the little things right and were great leaders throughout the season,” Hochhalter said. “They were expected to run well and they believed in themselves and were clutch.”

Sophomore Heavyn Bordak followed their lead and came in third for Alexandria and 21st overall in 21:03.3. Sophomore Caitlin Bright was 27th (21:17.7) and Stormy Hegg, a junior, was 32nd in 21:36.3 to round out the scoring. Seventh graders Lauren Maras (21:58.5) and Ella Sorensen (22:57.2) finished 41st and 61st, respectively.

“These are kids that ran with a lot of heart and it showed out there today,” Hochhalter said of both teams. “We are so proud of these runners in the way they prepare and are mentally tough. You know you have something special when past coaches, athletes, current athletes and families all come out on a not so nice day to cheer these teams on at the section meet. The opportunity was there, and we took advantage of it.”

The Cardinals will now see how they stack up against the best prep runners in Minnesota. The state meet is scheduled for Nov. 4 at St. Olaf, with the Class AA girls race going off at 10 a.m. and the boys following at 11. Alexandria proved something to itself in Fergus Falls on Thursday. These runners look to do the same thing in Northfield next week.

“We tell these kids how the memory will last a lifetime and the accomplishment it is to get there,” Hochhalter said. “Let's go down to the state meet at St. Olaf for this business trip and enjoy the accomplishment of giving our best. It takes a whole team effort, and that is what we saw out there on the Pebble Creek Golf Course.”

SECTION 8, CLASS AA MEETGIRLS TEAM RESULTS - Moorhead - 82; Alexandria - 87; Becker - 96; Monticello - 111; Rocori - 113; Sartell - 120; Bemidji - 156; Brainerd - 162; Thief River Falls - 286; Fergus Falls - 312; Detroit Lakes - 316; St. Cloud Tech - 326; St. Cloud Apollo - 363; Little Falls - 384; Foley - 447BOYS TEAM RESULTS - Sartell - 54; Alexandria - 56; Moorhead - 74; Bemidji - 88; St. Cloud Apollo - 143; Detroit Lakes - 171; Little Falls - 189; Becker - 200; Rocori - 231; Brainerd - 271; Foley - 328; St. Cloud Tech - 248; Fergus Falls - 359; Monticello - 389; Sauk Rapids-Rice - 413; Thief River Falls - 465
Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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