Card girls' basketball: Redbirds are now 4-0
Sometimes it's better to fly under the radar.
That has seemed to work for the Alexandria girls' basketball team so far this season. The Cardinals were ranked in the top-10 coming into the season last year, and for the most part, lived up to that ranking. The end result was not what they wanted, though, as they fell short in the section championship game against Sartell.
The loss of some key seniors from that team left this year's group with some questions to answer. Most importantly was how would they replace the losses they experienced on the perimeter in players like Gracie Bruzek, Kate Gearman and Angela Christianson?
That question seems to have been answered through the first four games. With increased playing time, players like Cara Wood, Jolyn Warnes and Lauren Trumm have stepped up their game. The improvement from players up and down this lineup has led to a 4-0 start. That may surprise some fans, but it is exactly what Cardinal players expected of themselves coming into the season.
"Definitely," Warnes said when asked if this team can continue to compete for a section title this year. "I feel like with the energy and the way we play with a positive [attitude], yeah we lost some amazing players last year, but girls have stepped up. I feel like we're just as good as last year and maybe even better."
Alexandria looked dominant in the second half against Sauk Rapids-Rice last Tuesday. The Cardinals led by 10 at the break but broke things open after halftime thanks to increased intensity in their full-court press. It led to an easy 67-34 win over the Storm.
That pressure defense is a staple of this Alexandria program. The Cardinals have a lot of length that causes opposing teams fits. Ali Haar, Cara Wood and Lauren and Sam Trumm each had three steals apiece against the Storm.
"We came out really fast," Warnes said. "We had a really nice positive energy and were all super excited to play. That energy came through with our aggression on the court."
It is a system that Warnes said is a lot of fun to play in. The Cardinals get after teams on defense, which in turn leads to a lot of easy baskets on the other end. That usually leads to a balanced attack on offense. That was the case again last Tuesday when Alexandria put three players in double figures and had five score at least six points. If you're willing to run, you're likely going to get scoring opportunities.
"It's amazingly fun," Warnes said. "I don't know how to explain it. I don't know how good of a player I would be if I would have played for a different coach. [Wendy Kohler] is a really good coach. She knows how to play basketball really well, and she shows us how to play defense. Our defense is just rockin'. It's full of traps and it's just amazingly fun to play."
The Cardinals also showed off their ability to score in the half court against the Storm. Haar led all scorers with 17 by moving without the ball and finding open areas on the floor. Warnes consistently knocked down a midrange jumper along the baseline on her way to 14 points, while Lauren Trumm added 14. Cara Wood poured in eight points and six assists from the point.
Wood's improved play has helped ease the blow of losing Bruzek, who broke her own school record and led the state with 172 assists last year. Wood was constantly looking to push the ball against Sauk Rapids. She set the tone for an Alexandria offense that got a lot of open looks early in possessions.
"I am so impressed by her," Warnes said of her junior point guard. "Last year, Gracie kind of taught her. Cara just watched her and saw how she was playing, and she has totally adapted to that. She's stepped up her game a lot, and I'm just pumped about it."
That improvement can be seen in a lot of players on the Alexandria roster. It has led to a perfect start as the Cardinals head into their annual holiday tournament. If opposing teams were not paying attention coming into the season, they likely are now.
SAUK RAPIDS 22 12 - 34
ALEXANDRIA 32 35 - 67
ALEXANDRIA LEADERS - Ali Haar - 17 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals, 4 blocks; Lauren Trumm - 14 points, 7 assists, 3 steals; Joie Warnes - 14 points, 8 rebounds; Cara Wood - 8 points, 6 assists, 3 steals; Sam Trumm - 6 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals; Bri Ebert - 5 points; Marisa Eigen - 2 points; Lauren Johnson - 1 point