Alexandria girls' basketball: Favorable first impressions
One wouldn't think a team that has won 69 games and gone to the last three section title games could sneak up on anyone, but that's what the Alexandria girls' basketball team is trying to do this year.
It just so happens that's exactly the way this team wants it to be.
"No one anywhere thinks we are anything," junior wing Amanda Christianson said. "That's good for us because all we can do is go up and show them that we're a good team, and we can compete with anyone. That's better because no one will expect us, and we can just sucker punch them."
It's hard to blame the rest of the Central Lakes Conference for taking a wait and see approach with Alexandria. The Cardinals lost three talented players from last year's 22-5 team in Cara Wood, Whitney Gesell and all-state guard Lauren Trumm. That's 957 points, 415 rebounds and 239 steals that the Cardinals had to replace.
It might seem like a daunting task but it's a challenge this team was eager to take on coming into the season opener on Tuesday night. Alexandria ran all over Little Falls on its way to a 37-7 lead at the break. The game was never in question after that as the Cardinals cruised to a 57-24 win.
"I was pretty happy with how they came out," head coach Wendy Kohler said. "They play together well. They have really good chemistry, and it's going to be a collaborative effort. We just need to get better every practice, every game. I think if we do that, we can position ourselves to hopefully be in contention when it's all said and done."
Her players seem to have once again bought into the team-first philosophy that Kohler tries to instill in all her teams. Christianson, the team's leading returning scorer, said there are no stars in this group. They know they need to rely on each other to get where they want to go.
The Cardinals played with that unselfish approach against the Flyers. They turned down good shots for better shots by making the extra pass as they pulled away in the first half. Nine different players scored for Alexandria as Christianson led the way with 16. Kalli Bowser and Jess Syvrud each had seven, while Sarah Bruzek finished with six.
"We're not selfish," Syvrud said. "Like Amanda said, there's no stars, and we're just going to keep waiting until we get the best opportunity to make a basket."
It helped that Alexandria was able to get a lot of easy looks in transition. That part hasn't changed with a few new faces in the lineup. The Cardinals were constantly leaking out a player or two off rebounds and turnovers in order to get out on the break. Their overall team speed eventually wore down the Flyers toward the end of the opening half.
"We tell the girls that it's a simple game," Kohler said. "Make the passes you should make and take the shots you should take. It's really simple. And everyone plays defense. The expectation is that everyone is up defending. We've got three different things in defensively this year. We've got some new things we're doing that fit this team pretty well."
Kohler said it has never been difficult to get the players to buy into that defensive philosophy. They know that swarming defense leads to a lot of easy buckets on the other end.
Little Falls had no answer for the Cardinals' pressure on Tuesday night. The Flyers struggled to get anything going in their half-court offense as Alexandria pushed them out well past the three-point line. That kept Little Falls stuck on four points through almost the entire opening half.
"I think defense is going to be the biggest part for us," Syvrud said. "If we play defense, we can definitely produce on offense. We just need to keep getting tips and working together and talking a lot. That will be our key."
That attitude has led to three straight 20-win seasons. Some of the faces may have changed from those teams but the expectations remain the same.
"I'm not surprised because I've seen them play through the program, and they've been very successful," Kohler said. "They were very successful this summer, and that's summer, I get that. But they've worked hard in preseason now. Our expectations are high. They're not going to lower their expectations because kids graduate. They're excited about their legacy now and what they can do for Cardinal basketball."
LITTLE FALLS 7 17 - 24
ALEXANDRIA 37 20 - 57
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Christianson - 16; Bowser - 7; Syvrud - 7; Bruzek - 6; Emily Thul - 4; Dani Strater - 4; Amanda Gould - 4; Karly Betterman - 3; Gretchen Revering - 3; Kendall Kohler - 3