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Cardinals are striving for greatness

Senior guard Karly Betterman drives past the defense of St. Cloud Tech’s Leah Wurm in the Cardinals’ home opener last Friday. Betterman finished with eight points as she helped her team earn a 62-51 win that moved Alexandria to 4-0 on the season. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

The Alexandria girls’ basketball team is already ranked third in the Class AAA polls, but talk to players and coaches, and they will say they have just scratched the surface of how good they could be.

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Alexandria had a chance to show that potential to home fans for the first time last Friday night against a one loss St. Cloud Tech team. After a slow start, the Cardinals regrouped and rolled to a 62-51 win that moved this team to 4-0 overall heading into its annual holiday tournament today.

“We’re super excited,” senior guard Amanda Christianson said after a game-high 22 points. “We’re just focusing on getting better. We know we can get so much better. We’re not even close to where we will be in a couple months.”

That’s why getting pushed against the Tigers last week was a welcome occurrence for head coach Wendy Kohler and her staff. Alexandria hadn’t been tested at all leading up to this game as the Cardinals beat their first three opponents by a combined 134 points.

They knew Tech would be a different story. The Tigers feature star guard Kaila Burroughs, a Division I signee who will play at the University of Denver next season. Burroughs hit a three that helped her team build an early nine-point lead in the first half, but Alexandria quieted her after that, holding her to 10 points.

Alexandria settled in about midway through the first half. Crookston transfer Brooke Heggie had a lot to do with that. The 6’2” junior center scored eight straight points for the Cardinals to get them right back in the game.

“It was definitely just digging in and getting focused,” Heggie said of the key to Alexandria turning things around. “Just playing 100 percent all the way through.”

Christianson began to take things over a little bit toward the end of the first half. She went from no points to nine points in a few minutes to give Alexandria a 30-24 lead at the break. The future St. Cloud State University guard added 13 in the second half to close out the Tigers. Heggie added 16 points and senior point guard Karly Betterman had eight.

“Good teams can make adjustments and we had to make a lot of adjustments,” Kohler said. “We had to make defensive adjustments. We had to make offensive adjustments. It was the first time all season we’ve had to do that, and I thought that was a really good win for us. They haven’t played from behind at all. They’ve played with huge leads so they’ve been really comfortable. It was good for us to get pushed out of our comfort zone.”

Kohler liked the way her team responded when faced with that adversity early in the game.

“Championship teams need to be able to not jump on that emotional roller coaster,” Kohler said. “They need to refuse to get on that and do what they need to do to find a way. I thought once we got off that emotional roller coaster and made the adjustments; instead of getting frustrated we started picking our way back in it. That’s a lesson that we’re going to take from this game.”

It was a good test early in the season for a team that comes into the year with big expectations. The Cardinals know they will have to earn it if they are going to accomplish their goals of winning a conference and section title. Fergus Falls (6-0, 3-0 CLC) is still loaded and ranked number one in the latest Class AAA polls.

The Cardinals proved they can play with the Otters in the section title game this past March when they lost a heartbreaker 55-54. Alexandria doesn’t need to use that loss for motivation. This is already a focused group that is determined to get the most out of a talented roster.

“We know that each season is a new season and last year doesn’t mean anything,” Christianson said. “We have to come out and prove ourselves again and work 10 times harder than we did last year just to get better. We have new girls and we’re just trying to be the best we can be.”

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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