The Alexandria Nordic ski teams used the final regular-season meet as a tuneup on Tuesday night in an event that was meant to provide a fun atmosphere before things get much more serious for programs at sections next week.

The Cardinals hosted a home invite at Andes Tower Hills where varsity teams raced in a four-person relay with two boys and two girls on each team. Freshman Kaisa Bosek and sophomore Bethany Miller joined senior Jackson Wichtendahl and junior Noah Struck to form Alexandria’s top relay. They finished third overall in a time of 34 minutes, 45 seconds, but those results were almost secondary on this day.

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“We wanted to get in some more practice before sections and the state meet if we get there,” Bosek said. “This was kind of a fun thing to do before the races. We just wanted to try our best, get some practice in and have some fun out there.”

Just skiing on a course with the man-made snow at Andes was a reason for optimism for the Cardinals. A lack of natural snow has caused this team to adjust all winter.

The Cardinals have done that by practicing on the pond behind Discovery Middle School, even going out onto Lake L’Homme Dieu at times. It is not ideal, but the Cardinals have gotten used to it over the last few years with a lack of snow continuously forcing skiers to be creative.

“They’re a really good group,” Alexandria head coach Jeremy Rapp said. “The last couple years have been positive. They just like being around each other, they like to train with each other. They do the best they can between the pond and trying to go out on Lake L’Homme Dieu. We try to get out (to Andes) once a week. In the back of their minds, I think they know some schools are in the same boat.”

The Cardinals have no choice but to be ready going into the Section 8, Class A meet that is set for Feb. 6 at 10 a.m. The meet has been moved from Little Falls to Maplelag near Callaway because of a lack of snow, and both the boys and girls teams have something to shoot for.

For the girls, it is an opportunity to take another step forward with this program after a third straight Central Lakes Conference championship was secured last week. The top two teams in the section make it down to state, and there is a feeling within this group that Alexandria can be in the running for one of those spots.

“We’ll try to do the best we can at sections,” Rapp said, “It would be so fun to have a team make it. A girls team hasn’t made it since 2001. A boys team has never made it. The ingredients are there for the girls to make a good run. The goal now is to keep them healthy.”

This girls squad has a solid young nucleus that had five athletes earn all-conference honors at the CLC meet. Carli Vrchota and Miller accomplished that in the classic race, while Kamryn Coauette was honorable-mention. Stormy Hegg, Emma Reineke and Bosek were both All-CLC in skate. Of those six, only Vrchota is a senior.

“We have a really strong team now,” Bosek said. “Everyone is pushing each other to get better. I just hope we can keep it up because I know we have a lot of young girls who are really fast. I’m excited to see what they will do in the future.”

The Alexandria boys are heading into the section meet with the hopes of putting together their best meet of the season. Getting out of the section as a team would be a big challenge, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to race for for this group.

“We’re expecting to push each other and encourage each other to do our best,” Struck said. “We’re working hard, looking at doing a taper soon to get ready. We feel like we put in enough to hopefully send a couple guys up to state.”

Struck and Wichtendahl both figure to be in that mix. They have positioned themselves among some of those top skiers in the section through previous regular-season meets.

Rapp knows it is unlikely that the Cardinals will reach the top of the field to make it to Biwabik as a team, but they still need a team performing at its best at sections next week.

“I think Jackson and Noah still need that positive team environment,” Rapp said. “We’re still telling the boys that negativity is contagious. You have to go in there and do your best, try to make the positive environment. I think Jackson and Noah can sneak in there. It will be tough, but it can be done.”