The Alexandria girls basketball team was back to its old ways in its home opener on Tuesday.
After starting the season with a 55-48 loss to New Prague at the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 23, the Cardinals ran all over St. Cloud Tech ahead of the Thanksgiving break. Alexandria beat the Tigers the same way it does a lot of opponents -- using good defense and a balanced attack offensively to secure the 57-36 win.
“I thought we did a lot of good things tonight,” Alexandria head coach Wendy Kohler said. “We got a lot of areas to clean up, but I thought overall we did a pretty nice job executing, and our defensive game was pretty good.”
The Cardinals were without starting senior guard Ella Grove for the second straight game. She was in street clothes, but on the court during warm-ups gathering rebounds for her teammates.
“If this was playoffs, she’d be playing tonight,” Kohler said of Grove. “We go right away with Willmar, Fergus Falls and Big Lake right in a row (at the beginning of December), so we need Ella 100 percent. She’s very close.”
Grove’s absence meant Alexandria would have to find other girls to step up offensively without the Cardinals’ leading scorer from a year ago.
Lilly Horn, a junior forward who moved from Brainerd in the offseason, was up to the challenge. Horn had 11 points by the break that included knocking down a couple triples. She finished with a game-high 17 after hitting two more threes in the second half.
“She can bring some physicality for us,” Kohler said of Horn. “We graduated some physical kids with (McKenzie Duwenhoegger) and (Emily Jones) and even (Kaye Paschka) was super physical. She brings us some toughness and she can score the basketball and get some boards for us, as well.”
Horn had five points in Alexandria’s loss to New Prague before breaking out on Tuesday. Kohler is seeing her settle in nicely to her role on this team.
“That’s what we do. Our team is family, and we’re together,” Kohler said. “The expectations are the same for everybody, and she’s settling in.”
Alexandria’s balance stretched its lead out to 38-16 by halftime. Seven different players had scored by that point, with Mia McGrane and Mataya Hoelscher each tallying seven and Alayna Strand chipping in five. McGrane finished with nine points, and Strand had eight.
Alexandria finished with 10 players scoring overall. The Cardinals knocked down eight triples.
“Everybody has to do their part, and this group can score the ball,” Kohler said. “They can shoot the basketball. We’re continuing to clean up our passing and timing and those things, but we can score out of every position, so that’s pretty nice.”
It was Alexandria’s defense that never let the Tigers climb back in the game. The Cardinals scored just six points over the first 11 minutes of the second half, but they still held a 20-point lead with eight minutes left.
That’s a standard approach for Kohler’s teams. Even when shots are not falling, the Cardinals seldom let droughts on offense affect their effort on defense. That is one of the positive things Kohler took away from the loss to New Prague on Saturday.
“We really played tough down there,” she said. “We were undersized. They had four starters over 6-feet tall. I think our defense is really going to be our staple again. I feel like a broken record, but we bothered them and forced them into a lot of turnovers. We learned we need to execute offensively much better than we did. We’re working on cleaning that up.”
The Cardinals have a tough early stretch awaiting with defending Central Lakes Conference champion Willmar coming to town on Dec. 3. Last year’s Section 8AAA champion, Fergus Falls, will then host Alexandria on Dec. 6 before the Cardinals go to Big Lake on Dec. 9.
It’s a three-game stretch that will help Alexandria learn a lot about itself, but Kohler is already confident in this team’s ability to be right where it wants to be by season’s end.
“This team will contend for those titles,” Kohler said of competing in the CLC and 8AAA fields. “We’re not going to back down from anyone. Our expectations are the same. It doesn’t matter who’s on the court.”
ST. CLOUD TECH
SCORING - ALEXANDRIA - Jaya Hatlestad - 6; Mia McGrane - 9; Myah Kremer - 2; Cate Bloom - 3; Mataya Hoelscher - 7; Alayna Strand - 8; Lilly Horn - 17; Morgan Jones - 2; Maggie Anderson - 2; Lilly Thul - 1
ST. CLOUD TECH - Sarah Harris - 4; Emma Borchert - 3; Genaya Murray - 8; Olivs McCarty - 2; Rachael Kaczor - 4; Mattie Vought - 11; Hailie Christiansen - 4