Alexandria senior Jacob Kleven came into this cross country season fresh off a junior year where he made the state meet, and he’s picked up where he left off so far.

Kleven is 3-for-3 now in winning meets as he helped the Cardinals breeze past Rocori and St. Cloud Tech on Thursday at Alexandria’s home triangular. The Cardinals had five top-six finishes on the way to 19 points, well in front of Rocori at 38 and St. Cloud Tech at 73.

“Last year, we lost three of our seniors who were in our top five, so we really took a hit. I think we’re really surprising people,” Kleven said. “We were going into the Brainerd meet (last Friday) looking to see what we could do against them, and we went 1-2-3 there. They were missing their first runner, but I think we’re really going to surprise some people.”

Alexandria teammates Luke Panther (left) and Lance Jacobson run side-by-side during Thursday's varsity race at Arrowwood Resort. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria teammates Luke Panther (left) and Lance Jacobson run side-by-side during Thursday's varsity race at Arrowwood Resort. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Kleven ran with his teammates through much of the first half of the race at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center on Thursday before pulling away down the stretch. He finished in a time of 17:24.9 on the 5K course, 31 seconds faster than his time last meet.

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“When I went out that first mile or so, I wanted to kind of sit back because I noticed at our first meet at Rocori I went out a bit too hard,” Kleven said. “Then I was just trying to hold on that second part. Last week in Brainerd and then today, my goal was to get to the halfway point and then work it down from there. I was hoping to break 17 (minutes), but physically I felt good.”

Kleven said it’s been a bit of a strange feeling racing in meets with so few teams this year. Alexandria is used to running on the Arrowwood course against many of the other top teams in the state the first Saturday in October. That lends itself to being a packed atmosphere, but the three-team race on Thursday featured a new two-loop course that allowed the limited fans in attendance to see much of the action throughout the race.

Alexandria's Nathan Klimek was 17th on Thursday at Arrowwood in a time of 20:07.9. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Nathan Klimek was 17th on Thursday at Arrowwood in a time of 20:07.9. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“You really have to rely on the workouts you’re doing and knowing what pace you should be doing during the race even if there’s nobody near you,” Kleven said. “With Cameron (Hochsprung) today, he got out of his comfort zone and we pushed off of each other. These really small meets, yeah it does make it tough to stay motivated out there because if you look back and see you have 50 meters, it’s a lot easier to slow down than to keep going.”

Runners still don’t know what any postseason might look like right now. It likely won’t include that normal state-meet feel at St. Olaf that runners like Kleven would have been shooting for, but he’s taking a positive approach into each meet through a good start to the season.

“I wanted something to be able to look back on, and I feel like we have a great group of guys,” Kleven said. “My motivation is just making every second of this season count, trying to get as fast as we can even if there isn’t a state meet. Just being able to look back and say, ‘Yeah, I ran my fastest race with a really great team.’”

Cardinals making strides

Alexandria's Harrison Greathouse (right) finished sixth on Thursday afternoon at Arrowwood in a time of 18:13.6. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Harrison Greathouse (right) finished sixth on Thursday afternoon at Arrowwood in a time of 18:13.6. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Alexandria boys as a whole have pushed themselves to a good start to the season.

They dominated on Thursday with four top-five finishes in the 23-person varsity field. Hochsprung was third behind Rocori’s Vincent Kaluza (17:31.8) with a time of 17:41.5, a personal best by 37 seconds. Joel Brault (fourth, 17:48.1, personal best), Bennett Wirth (fifth, 17:55.4, season best) and Harrison Greathouse (sixth, 18:13.6) finished off the team scoring.

“The boys are taking it to heart and they’re working every day super hard,” Alexandria head coach Travis Hochhalter said. “You see Cameron today, holy cow he stepped up big. We have the boys who are willing to put in the work during the season right now, and they’re bringing those other guys along.”

Alexandria's Joel Brault ran to a fourth-place finish at the Cardinals' home triangular on Thursday in a time of 17:48.1. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Joel Brault ran to a fourth-place finish at the Cardinals' home triangular on Thursday in a time of 17:48.1. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Nathan Klimek, Luke Panther and Lance Jacobson also ran varsity to round out the lineup for Alexandria. Klimek was 16th in 20:07.9. Panther was right behind him in 17th (20:19.7), and Jacobson finished 21st in 21:36.3.

The win Thursday was another step in the right direction for the Cardinals. In a season where things are anything but normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hochhalter has been impressed with what he has seen from both his boys and girls teams.

“I think they’ve stepped up huge,” he said. “These kids know every day and week we get, this is an opportunity. We’re going to be ready. Whatever happens (with a postseason), we’re going to have a plan. They’re listening to it, they’re following it, and I’m pretty impressed with this group.”

The Alexandria boys cross country team starts its race against Rocori and St. Cloud Tech at the Cardinals' home triangular at Arrowwood Resort on Thursday evening. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
The Alexandria boys cross country team starts its race against Rocori and St. Cloud Tech at the Cardinals' home triangular at Arrowwood Resort on Thursday evening. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)