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Alexandria looking like a team capable of accomplishing its lofty goals through a 5-0 start after sweep of Sartell

The Cardinals have a tall, talented lineup that continues to pressure opponents from multiple spots on the court as they won a fifth straight match on Tuesday night. Alexandria has dropped just two sets through those five wins.

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From left to right, Alexandria's Lilly Thul, Addison Rossum, Maggie Anderson, Maddi Buysse, Hadley Thul and Emma Ballou celebrate a Cardinals' point after a long rally late in the first set against Sartell-St. Stephen on Sept. 7, 2021. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

The Alexandria and Sartell-St. Stephen volleyball teams are no longer section opponents, but Tuesday night’s early-season matchup could still have Central Lakes Conference implications with the Cardinals looking like a team capable of competing for a CLC crown right now.

The Sabres are not that far removed from a 2019 season where they went 26-2 as one of the top teams in Section 8-3A and the conference. Sartell is now playing out of Section 8-4A this fall after going 7-5 during the shortened 2020 season.

The Cardinals are anchored by seven seniors and an experienced lineup that has lived up to expectations so far after a sweep over the Sabres improved Alexandria to 5-0.

“I’m so confident in my team right now and comfortable with everyone that plays on the court,” senior Maggie Anderson said. “I trust everyone on the court, and I’m so excited to play our next game on Monday against Park Rapids.”

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Alexandria's Kiya Issendorf (2), Addie Boesl (9) and Tessa McGrane (1) help celebrate a Hadley Thul (4) kill during the Cardinals' win over Sartell-St. Stephen on Sept. 7, 2021. The win moved Alexandria to 5-0 on the season. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Cardinals dominated the first set against the Sabres in a 25-11 win. That set the tone as they never trailed through sets two and three on the way to their third straight sweep. Through the five straight wins to start the season, Alexandria has dropped just two sets.

The Cardinals jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second set that forced an early Sartell timeout. The Sabres stayed in that set much of the way, but the Cardinals closed things out with a 25-16 win to go up 2-0.

Sartell trailed all third set, but got it as close as 24-22 late. An errant serve gave Alexandria the the final win it needed to complete the sweep.

Anderson had a team-best 12 kills, while freshman Hadley Thul had eight for an Alexandria offense that has weapons all over the court for junior setter Kiya Issendorf (25 assists) to choose from.

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Alexandria junior Charlotte Lempka puts down a kill between the defense of Sartell's Taya Lewandowski (14) and Abby Haus during the Cardinals' win over the Sabres on Sept. 7, 2021. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

The Cardinals have four athletes at 6-feet or taller, with junior Charlotte Lempka (5 kills) listed at 6-feet, 5-inches. Lempka and Anderson (6-feet, 2-inches) help anchor a versatile group of returning hitters for the Cardinals, and they also have two freshmen in Hadley Thul and Addison Rossum (3 kills) adding more depth.

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“It’s great. We walk into gyms and I can hear girls on the other side of the net going, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re so tall,’” Lempka said with a smile. “I’ve had people from the other school’s cheering sections come up to me and be like, ‘How tall are you?’ It scares them, and that’s what’s so great when you have an intimidating, tall team. It really brings the pressure and breaks the other team down before you even start playing.”

Alexandria felt it had a good team coming into the season, but the Cardinals needed to go out and prove it on the court. They have certainly done that to this point, and it’s a group that is starting to believe in some lofty goals they have for themselves.

“We have not been to state in a very long time,” Lempka said. “We have high hopes, so every day at practice we’re working hard. That’s our goal. Our main goal is to get to the highest spot. Yes we want to win the conference, and yes we want to beat all these teams, but we really strive to get up to that level. Little goals are great, but we’re reaching big.”

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Alexandria's Maggie Anderson (11), Lilly Thul (15) and Addison Rossum share a laugh between points against Sartell-St. Stephen on Sept. 7, 2021. The Cardinals had plenty to smile about again on Tuesday as their win over the Sabres improved this team to 5-0 on the season. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

There’s still plenty of work to be done, and players know they are not yet a finished product so early in the season.

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“We need to cover a little more in the middle, back area,” Lempka said when asked of parts of their game they need to keep improving. “We need to be able to reach both of those corners because that’s where a lot of teams have been killing us lately. I also feel like we need to work on closing our blocks. Middles especially are kind of reaching, and me in particular, I have a hard time adjusting my swing. I like to pound the ball all the time, and sometimes a smart shot is something I need to go for.”

The Cardinals are off the rest of this week before two more home games next week. Up first is Park Rapids on Monday night. Then comes a 7 p.m. matchup against Class 3A’s third-ranked Willmar in a test that should let Alexandria know exactly where it stands in the CLC pecking order after a fast start.

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Alexandria freshman Hadley Thul tips a ball over the outstretched arms of Sartell's Taya Lewandowski and Abby Haus on Sept. 7, 2021. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

“I’m really excited, and I think that we’re ready too,” Anderson said. “We’re going to be practicing, we’re going to be watching film. We know Willmar pretty well. We know their players, and I think we have a good chance this year. They lost a lot of seniors last year too. I don’t want to lose, but even if we did lose, it will still be fun.”

ALEXANDRIA 3, SARTELL-ST. STEPHEN 0

(25-11, 25-16, 25-22)

ALEXANDRIA - Tessa McGrane - 3 aces, 5 assists, 11 digs; Erika Wentworth - 2 aces; Hailie Kent - 1 kill, 1 assist, 3 digs; Kiya Issendorf - 1 kill, 2 blocks, 25 assists, 7 digs; Addie Rossum - 2 aces, 3 kills, 1 dig; Lilly Thul - 2 kills, 2 blocks; Cora Larson - 2 aces, 7 digs; Hadley Thul - 1 ace, 8 kills, 2 digs; Addie Boesl - 1 assist, 3 digs; Maggie Anderson - 12 kills, 1 block, 1 dig; Maddi Buysse - 1 block; Charlotte Lempka - 5 kills, 2 blocks, 2 digs

Related Topics: VOLLEYBALL
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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