Alexandria controls its own destiny in the CLC after avenging early loss to Willmar
The winner of Tuesday's game between Willmar and Alexandria would move into the driver's seat in the race for a CLC title, and Alexandria left little doubt in avenging a season-opening loss to its conference rival.
The Alexandria girls basketball team has finished second in the Central Lakes Conference standings in each of the last three years after last winning a championship in 2017.
Willmar was the team right in front of Alexandria in that conference pecking order in 2018 and 2019 around a Fergus Falls championship in 2020. All three teams are good again this year, but Alexandria (11-3, 9-1 CLC) jumped into the driver’s seat in that CLC race with a 62-50 win over Willmar (10-3, 9-2 CLC) on Tuesday night. The Cardinals are the lone team left with just one loss in league play, with Fergus Falls (10-3) entering Tuesday at 6-2 in the CLC.
“Our first game was against (Willmar),” Alexandria senior Cate Bloom said. “We lost pretty badly, and we didn’t really have anything figured out. We grew up in this game. We started to figure things out and play more as a team than we did when we were in Willmar.”
That season opener on Jan. 15 when Willmar won 53-36 is a season low in points for Alexandria. It was a bit of a wakeup call in the conference early on, and this team responded with a much better game in the rematch.
Alexandria was in control most of the night, especially in the second half when it quickly turned a 23-18 halftime lead into a 31-20 game with 15:07 left. The Cardinals kept it at a double-digit lead most of the night as they built a 17-point advantage at one point.
Willmar got a game-high 23 points from senior guard Mackenzie Jones, but Alexandria made her work for it on 7-of-24 shooting.
Willmar tried to keep it close with an 8-0 run late in the first half that cut what was an 18-8 lead for Alexandria down to two. That was as close as Willmar would get as Alexandria never panicked on its home court.
“We just know that we want it more than them. We’re willing to do anything just to get the win,” Alexandria’s Lilly Horn said. “We want to win this conference, and we want to win our section and head back to state. That’s in the back of our minds every game, every pass, every shot. So when we put it all together, we know what we can do together and we turn out OK.”
Horn had plenty to do with Alexandria’s success. She plays starter minutes, but the senior forward came off the bench Tuesday and scored a quick eight points. She had 11 by the half and 17 overall after knocking down four threes.
Senior guard Mataya Hoelscher added three triples and a team-high 18 points, while Bloom finished in double figures with 11.
Alexandria hit nine threes total. Many came after some long possessions where Alexandria was patient against the Willmar zone and used crisp passing to find the open shooter.
“This team has chemistry like I’ve never had on a team before,” Horn said. “It’s almost like all of us girls live together. We know exactly where each person is going to be. We work on passing every day in practice. It’s something we take much pride in.”
Alexandria has responded after all three of its losses this year by coming back with wins the next time out. The Cardinals ran off a six-game winning streak after falling to Eden Prairie on Jan. 23, and Tuesday’s win over Willmar is their fourth straight win with four more games on the regular-season schedule.
All four of those are against CLC opponents. Alexandria controls its own destiny in its quest to win a conference championship, but the Cardinals have to go through St. Cloud Tech (2-11), Sartell-St. Stephen (5-8) and Fergus Falls on the road around a home game with Brainerd (9-4) on March 8.
“We can’t have anymore breakdowns,” Bloom said. “At Willmar and (Detroit Lakes), we had some breakdowns and weren’t all together, but we figured it out and are playing our way. We’re figuring it out as a team and coming together more. If any of us are down, we know our teammates are there to pick us up.”
ALEXANDRIA 23 39 - 62
WILLMAR 18 32 - 50
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Jaya Hatlestad - 8; Morgan Jones - 4; Myah Kremer - 1; Cate Bloom - 11; Mataya Hoelscher - 18; Alayna Strand - 3; Lilly Horn - 17
WILLMAR SCORING - Sammy Christoffer - 6; Ellary Lange - 7; Zoe Schroeder - 2; Mackenzie Jones - 23; Emily Staska - 2; Callie Slagter - 1; Jaida Reiman - 3; Ella Shinn - 6