Coming into the 2020 fall season ready to hit the ground running would take a strong approach from high school athletes with so much uncertainty surrounding whether or not there would even be a season this past summer.

It helps to have a strong culture within a team to lean on. The Cardinals’ running programs create an atmosphere where getting better as a person and an individual runner is more important than wins or losses. The girls cross country team leaned on that in the offseason and had a lot of athletes work as hard as ever.

“We were training hoping for the best,” junior Aleah Miller said. “But nobody knew if we were going to have a season or not. I was proud of the way our team got together this summer and stuck with it and trained like we were going to have a season.”

Miller said athletes for the Cardinals probably put in between 15-35 miles a week of running during the summer. It’s paying dividends for a lot of girls as Alexandria won a third straight meet on Thursday, this time dominating its home triangular with 17 points. Rocori was a distant second with 48 points, and St. Cloud Tech rounded out the field with 72.

Miller ran side-by-side with senior teammate Taelor Dummer through the first half of the race, but she kicked it in over the final mile of the 5K, winning in 19:12.3.

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Alexandria's Mataya Hoelscher (left) pulls ahead of teammate Jaelyn Miller during the Cardinals' home triangular on Thursday. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Mataya Hoelscher (left) pulls ahead of teammate Jaelyn Miller during the Cardinals' home triangular on Thursday. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“Aleah had an amazing race today and then all those girls that follow,” Alexandria head coach Travis Hochhalter said. “We have a senior in Mataya Hoelscher who cracked into the top five today who had never been on the team before. Giselle Jahner -- we have all these girls where there’s nine of them and they’re doing everything they can. They’re listening to us in workouts, and it’s going to show.”

Hoelscher kicked it in down the stretch to reel in other runners and finish third in 20:13.3 in just her second 5K race. Jahner was fourth in 20:14.3, and Jaelyn Miller rounded out the team scoring in seventh place (20:23.2). Emma Ecker (20:37.6) and Brynn Kosters (20:55) weren’t far behind in ninth and 11th place, respectively.

Dummer seeing returns from her labor

Alexandria senior Taelor Dummer finished second at the Cardinals' home triangular on Thursday in a time of 19:39.0. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria senior Taelor Dummer finished second at the Cardinals' home triangular on Thursday in a time of 19:39.0. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)


Taelor Dummer is an example of how much a runner can grow over the course of a few years with some hard work.

Dummer did not join the cross country program until her sophomore year. She was part of the group that finished fourth at state a year ago, but Dummer wasn’t satisfied with the way she ran individually in 2019. She set out this past summer to improve on that by putting in more than 350 miles of training.

“I kind of had the mindset of, ‘We’re going in and we’re going to have a normal season,’” Dummer said of running so many miles preparing for a season no one even knew would take place for sure. “Last year coming out, I was not doing the best. I felt like this year my summer training really paid off.”

Dummer won the season-opening 4K at Rocori in late August with a time of 15:36. She was part of a perfect team score for the Cardinals in Brainerd last Friday where they filled up the top five to win with 15 points.

On Thursday back at her home course, Dummer admits she was nervous and even a little surprised herself with how she had run early this fall. She brushed those nerves aside and tied a personal-best 5K time at 19:39 to take second individually.

“I was coming in thinking, ‘Oh, jeez. Is this going to be the race that I’m not going to do good in with a little more heat?’” Dummer said. “But I felt really good. At the start, it was just, ‘I’m going to get out and I’m going to do it.’”

Hochhalter hasn’t been surprised with what he has seen from Dummer.

“We’ve talked about that forever. Summer miles are probably the other part of the season where it makes the actual season more fun,” he said. “You can grind out there a little and you’re feeling good. You’re having fun doing it. She learned that. She decided to put more summer miles on, and they’re paying off. She’s not afraid, and she’s a great leader this year.”

Alexandria's Emma Ecker (right) finished ninth in a time of 20:37.6 on Thursday. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Emma Ecker (right) finished ninth in a time of 20:37.6 on Thursday. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Cardinals had a balanced team a year ago that featured multiple girls who could win on any given day. Alexandria is working hard to develop that kind of depth again and is looking like one of the top programs in the Central Lakes Conference early on this season.

“We had a lot of seniors go last year, so our times are a little bit more spread out this year,” Aleah Miller said. “But we have so many young athletes with so much potential. By next year, I think we’re going to have that same thing where anybody could be first, if not by the end of the season this year.”

Alexandria's Giselle Jahner (right) leads teammate Jaelyn Miller by a step during their race at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center on Thursday evening. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Giselle Jahner (right) leads teammate Jaelyn Miller by a step during their race at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center on Thursday evening. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)