NORTHFIELD – After the girls cross country runners crossed the finish line at St. Olaf College on Saturday morning, Alexandria head coach Travis Hochhalter was all smiles.
The Cardinals finished the state meet with a team score of 138 – fourth-best in the field of 16.
"This was the best outcome we could've gotten today," Hochhalter said. "There are so many good runners here today. We try not to look at the competition so we can just run the way we can, but it's clear there are a lot of excellent schools here. When I found out we got fourth, I was speechless."
Leading the way was sophomore Emma Ecker in 28th place with a time of 18:54. Sophomore Giselle Jahner (38th place, with a time of 19:03.6) and eighth-grader Jaelyn Miller (40th place in 19:04) were right behind her.
"I think today was important for us who are coming back next year," Ecker said. "Today, we proved we belong here and that we can compete with some of the best teams in the state. We worked so hard for this."
Sophomore Aleah Miller (19:09.3) and senior Caitlin Bright (19:09.4) finished back-to-back at 50th and 51st, respectively. Four of the top five finishers will return for the Cardinals next season. Ecker hopes they can continue to get better as they get older.
"I think every year we run, we are going to be stronger and faster," Ecker said. "This was such a fun group to be a part of all season. We were so close, and I think that helped us get to where we are today. I think it will also make us better in the future."
Edina easily won the meet, with Wayzata edging out St. Michael-Albertville for the silver medal. Stillwater junior Analee Weaver took first in the field with a time of 17:46.1.
Many of the schools that competed at the state meet were at the Lions Meet of Champions at Arrowwood Resort earlier this season, when Alexandria finished third behind St. Paul Highland Park. On Saturday, it was the Cardinals beating out the the Stillwater Ponies.
"You come down here, and you expect to run well. Getting fourth is like a state championship for us," Hochhalter said. "There's some big-time schools down here. We beat a lot of them today. It's incredible."
Alexandria didn't have a runner crack the top 10 but still managed to finish as the fourth-best team in the state. Hochhalter believes that's due to the strength of the program as a whole.
"You look at our girls, and you can see that there's so many of them within 30 seconds of each other," he said. "Because of that, they know they can support each other if somebody is having a bad day. It was a cold race, and they braced through it. I think we made Section 8AA proud today."
Galloway and Kleven finish strong
Senior Brian Denke was sitting at the finish line with the rest of the Alexandria boys cross country team and a case of Mountain Dew.
Before the season, the Cardinals decided to give up soda for the 2019 fall season. On the final race day of the year, senior Dane Galloway and junior Jacob Kleven were greeted by their friends, family and caffeine.
"They decided to give up something for the team this year," Hochhalter said. "They didn't drink pop throughout the season, so it was kind of a fun thing the guys brought down for them this year."
Kleven finished in 85th place with a time of 16:48. After a successful season, Hochhalter was impressed with the jump he made from his sophomore year.
"He's been one of the building blocks of this team," he said. "Next year, he's going to have to seriously decide what he's going to do. If he wants to take that next step, he's going to have to make that commitment. It's not easy, but he can do it."
Galloway ended his career running with the best-of-the-best at St. Olaf. He finished in 122nd place (17:07.7). From day one as an underclassman to his final race, he is a running example of how to climb the ladder.
"Holy smokes, this kid has come a long way to be here," Hochhalter said. "He was a basketball player, and he only ran because he was kind of good at it. He comes out here and he found out he has great leadership skills. He's a wild one.
"He decided from last year in Thief River Falls, where he missed state by three seconds, that he was going to start moving forward with this team under his wing. They raced hard every single week. I'm so proud of him for that."
The Cardinals finished third at the section meet – one place short of qualifying as a team for state. Most Alexandria team members were spectators on Saturday, but are already itching to get back to work.
"You get these kids down here and show them what it's like to be part of all of this action, it's motivating for them," Hochhalter said. "They're here, they're excited, and they want to do this as a team next fall. It'll be fun to see what they bring to the table next time around."
CLASS AA GIRLS
Team scores – Edina 55, Wayzata 109, STMA- 115, Alexandria 138, Stillwater 159, SPHP 168, Farmington 176, Willmar 189, East Ridge 246, Marshall 265, Forest Lake 275, Rosemount 312, Andover 314, Mounds View 324, Lakeville South 358, Chanhassen 425.
Alexandria – 28. Emma Ecker 18:54; 38. Giselle Jahner 19:03.6; 40. Jaelyn Miller 19:04; 50. Aleah Miller 19:09.3; 51. Caitlin Bright 19:09.4; 109. Bethany Miller 19:45.7; 125. Haevyn Bordak 20:01.4.
CLASS AA BOYS
Team scores – Mounds View 86, Eden Prairie 87, SPHP 135, Edina 158, Prior Lake 160, Eastview 166, White Bear Lake 171, Buffalo 210, Willmar 214, Bemidji 232, Forest Lake 249, Farmington 257, Maple Grove 297, Mankato East 335, Rochester Century 344, Cloquet 396.
Alexandria – 85. Jacob Kleven 16:48; 122. Dane Galloway 17:05.7.