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Alexandria girls get their top-two spot at sections to secure another trip to state for this proud program

The Cardinals were one of three teams with Willmar and Rocori coming into the Section 8AA meet ranked in state as Willmar and Alexandria got the top two spots to earn a trip to St. Olaf on Nov. 6.

The Alexandria girls cross country team won the Section 8AA meet last season as part of a perfect record in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic kept the Cardinals from competing at state after those postseason tournaments were canceled for fall sports.

Given another chance a year later with that reward on the horizon, Alexandria was not about to miss out on a trip to St. Olaf on the Cardinals’ home course at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center on Thursday.

Alexandria was up against two other state-ranked teams in Willmar and Rocori in this year’s Section 8AA meet. Alexandria fended off a talented Rocori team for that second-place spot with 55 team points to secure their place at state on Nov. 6.

This will be the 25th state appearance for the Alexandria girls. They finished fourth in 2019.

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“When you have the top three teams in our section ranked in the state, it’s always a little nerve wracking,” Alexandria head coach Travis Hochhalter said. “But all you do is go out there and put your best foot forward every day. Willmar got us today. We’ll be going after them at state, and it was very, very nice moving on with this team, especially with the seniors we have.”

Alexandria beat Willmar and Rocori at the Lion’s Meet of Champions at Arrowwood earlier this season, but Willmar edged Alexandria for the section championship with 45 points. Lauren Eilers (2nd, 18:40.3), Erin Eilers (6th, 19:11.8) and Nina Dawson (9th, 19:35.6) all finished in the top 10 to lead Willmar.

All five of Willmar’s scorers finished in the top 15, and all five of Alexandria scorers were in the top 18.

“It’s so competitive,” Hochhalter said. “I think our girls were just a tad bit flat, but the grit that these girls have, they knew they had to push in the middle of the race and continue to push through the end. They had this goal in mind for many years, and they wanted to finish it. They did a fabulous job of continuing to do what they ask of themselves. They set their own bar today.”

Seniors Aleah Miller (4th, 18:50.9) and Emma Ecker (5th, 19:08.5) finished right next to each other in the standings. Sophomore Jaelyn Miller was Alexandria’s third runner in 12th with a time of 19:53.2.

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“Aleah had a great race. Emma Ecker had a great race,” Hochhalter said. “I still think one of those girls has a big race in them. We’ve seen it in practice. There was no bad race today, but they still can have a really fabulous race down at state. It will be fun to see what we can do there. I am so proud of those top 5 girls and this whole team, even numbers 8 and 9 who didn’t run today. It’s a really good group of girls”

To beat a team like Rocori, which finished just 7 points behind Alexandria in third, it takes high finishes from the fourth and fifth scorers. Juniors Brynn Kosters (16th, 20:20.4) and Giselle Jahner (18th, 20:35.3) both stepped up in a big moment for the Cardinals.

“I want them on my team every day,” Hochhalter said. “Giselle just worked hard in there. She knew what she needed to do, and when she finished she was just like, ‘I didn’t get that last one.’ I said, ‘You did everything you needed to do.’ She’s just so fun, and Brynn has been a fabulous girl all year long. The effort that they give is outstanding.”

Sophomore Brynn Cross was 33rd overall in 21:54.7, and freshman Bobbi Nichols was 36th out of 82 total runners in 22:05.8.

Alexandria would have liked to qualify for state with a first-place finish at sections, but these athletes also know the biggest meet is yet to come. The Cardinals made it there and now have a chance to showcase themselves against the top teams in the state.

The Class AA meet is the final race of the day at St. Olaf on Nov. 6 when they run at 3:30 p.m.

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“The big thing is when you get second place, we wanted a championship,” Hochhalter said. “We wanted that, but you go down there and go after Willmar. (Top-ranked St. Paul) Highland Park is a very, very tough team, but I don’t think we should be looking for anything less than second as a team...Let’s look at everything, have the best race we can and go down for a big business trip.”

SECTION 8AA GIRLS

TEAM SCORES - Willmar - 45; Alexandria - 55; Rocori - 62; Pequot Lakes - 134; Little Falls - 160; Albany - 185; Fergus Falls - 187; Detroit Lakes - 208; New London-Spicer - 232; Thief River Falls - 245; Melrose Area - 269; East Grand Forks - 314

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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