A familiar face returned to the Alexandria girls basketball team in its 57-50 win over Willmar at home on Tuesday night.

Senior Ella Grove sat out the first two games with an injury before coming back to the starting lineup for her first game of the season. Her 25-point game propelled Alexandria over Central Lakes Conference rival Willmar (2-1).

“It was fun to get back out there and play such good competition,” Grove said. “Willmar is a good team, and it felt good to be out on the court with my teammates and get a win.”

Alexandria controlled the pace of play from the opening tip. They jumped out to a 20-12 lead in the first half and didn’t look back.

“All we can do is talk to them and tell them how we want to start each half,” head coach Wendy Kohler said. “The girls went out there and competed tonight. I’ve been happy with our execution after a good week of practice.”

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Alexandria took a 10-point lead into the half but found itself in foul trouble early on. The Cardinal’s depth prevailed in their third game of the season.

Jaya Hatlestad calls out a play as the offense gets set up in the first half during Alexandria's 57-50 win over Willmar on Tuesday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Jaya Hatlestad calls out a play as the offense gets set up in the first half during Alexandria's 57-50 win over Willmar on Tuesday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

“We fouled too much, and we put them in the bonus,” Kohler said. “This team can score out of all five positions. I feel like we have nine kids that could start. Maybe even 10. We are deep, and we have to play with confidence. It’s about everybody doing their part.”

Despite being a deep team, Kohler enjoyed watching Grove return to midseason form in her first game back.

“She’s just such a good player,” Kohler said. “She’s a real team player. We had to give her some spot-minutes tonight, but when she was out there, she was huge for us.”

After opening up a 15-point lead in the second half, Alexandria put the clamps on Willmar defensively. They took away space to force contested shots and small passing lanes.

“I was pleased with our defense,” Kohler said. “They set the tone tonight and made Willmar work for everything. We knew it was going to be a tough game. Willmar rebounds hard and does a lot of good things out there.”

Last season, Willmar swept the season series, including a 58-45 win at AAHS. Kohler reminded her team what those losses felt like before the game.

“The first thing that Wendy said after the game was this team beat us last year in a similar game,” Grove said. “We know these games are tough, but we just have to keep pushing and work hard in the gym because we will play them later on.”

After losing three starters from last year’s Section 8AAA runner up team, other Cardinals have been asked to step up. In Alexandria’s 2-1 start to the season, the morale is growing with each win.

Ella Grove takes the ball to the rim for two points during Alexandria's 57-50 win over Willmar on Tuesday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)
Ella Grove takes the ball to the rim for two points during Alexandria's 57-50 win over Willmar on Tuesday night. (Jared Rubado / Echo Press)

“We have a lot of confidence with our starters and our bench,” Grove said. “The more we play, the more confidence we will find. We need to get better at being stronger and smarter with our passes, but we like the way it’s going so far.”

Alexandria will face its former section rival later this week when they travel to Fergus Falls (2-1). Friday will serve as a rematch of last year’s section title game.

“It’s early in the season, and we can celebrate this one for a little tonight, but we have to turn our attention to a tough Fergus team,” Kohler said. “After that, we get a tough Big Lake team. This is a good win, and I’m sure Willmar will be ready for us when we play them at their place later this year.”

WILLMAR 22 28 - 50

ALEXANDRIA 32 25 - 57

ALEXANDRIA SCORING- Jaya Hatlestad 4, Mia McGrane 10, Ella Grove 25, Cate Bloom 2, Mataya Hoelscher 9, Lilly Horn 3, Summer Gerhardt 4;

WILLMAR SCORING- Sam Christoffer 3, Katelyn Murphy 3, Mackenzie Jones 12, Sadie Raitz 9, Madi Linbo 9, Jaida Reiman 6, Ashley Pahl 8