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Girls basketball: Cardinals win Breakdown state title

The Alexandria girls basketball team isn't losing any momentum from last winter. After a second consecutive trip to the state tournament in March, the Cardinals added a title to their resume by winning the Class AAA Breakdown Sports Summer State ...

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The Alexandria girls basketball team won the Breakdown summer state tournament by beating Willmar in the championship on July 15. Team members are Summer Gerhardt, Cate Bloom, Emily Jones, Mia McGrane, McKenzie Duwenhoegger, Taya Hoelscher, Ella Grove, Jaya Hatlestad, Alayna Strand and Myah Kremer. Not pictured is Kaye Paschka. (Submitted photo)

The Alexandria girls basketball team isn't losing any momentum from last winter.

After a second consecutive trip to the state tournament in March, the Cardinals added a title to their resume by winning the Class AAA Breakdown Sports Summer State Championship in Maple Grove on Sunday, July 15.

"We had some fantastic performances by our kids, defensively and offensively," Alex head coach Wendy Kohler said. "I feel really good with the process this summer and how far our kids have come."

The tournament is hosted by Breakdown Sports, who invites the teams that they think could potentially come out of each section in each class, Kohler said.

Alexandria received an invitation, and the Cardinals proved their worth by running the table in the eight-team field. Alex beat Waseca 41-34 in the quarterfinals, Big Lake 47-31 in the semifinals and Central Lakes Conference-foe Willmar 43-36 in the championship game.

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Alexandria also turned around and won another matchup with Willmar less than 24 hours after that game to win its summer league championship.

"It's just huge because our kids get the feel of playing at a high level," Kohler said of the experience drawn from the Breakdown tournament. "They understand the expectations (of what) it takes to play these teams and every team. It gives them the experience and the confidence."

Against Waseca, the Cards locked in defensively for stops down the stretch. Paired with free throws to ice the game away, Alexandria advanced to play Big Lake in the semifinals.

There, the Kohler said control belonged to Alex from the opening tip, resulting in the 16-point win. And it set up a CLC matchup in the championship game.

"We met (Willmar) in the championship game, and we played pretty well," said Kohler. "We jumped on Willmar and we had a little bit of a cushion for most of the game. But they did close the gap by half."

Although the Cardinals could never quite pull away, makes from the charity stripe again paid dividends in the end.

"The game was always in the balance," Kohler said. "We made our free throws and held on for the win."

The tournament gave Alexandria the chance to gain experience against some of the state's best, and it also allowed for growth long before the first whistle blows in November.

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"It's a good way to develop your team as far as the camaraderie," Kohler said. "When you play hard like that, when you can accomplish things together, you kind of are able to craft and mold your team in the summertime, which is really great.

"But I tell the kids, 'We're not playing our best basketball in July.' The exciting thing is, we're going to get a whole lot better when November comes."

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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