Girls hockey: Arola embraces jump to Class AA for Alexandria's program
Teams around Minnesota were ready to see what their fate would be for the near future when it comes to the sections they play their postseasons in, and no team in Douglas County will make a bigger move than the Alexandria girls hockey team.
The Minnesota State High School League board of directors met on April 4 and approved the section assignments for teams over the next two school years through the 2020-21 season.
Full section assignments for every school in Minnesota can be seen at www.mshsl.org/sections/. For the first time in the two-class format, the Alexandria girls hockey team won't be playing at the Class A level these next two years.
The Cardinals fell to Fergus Falls in the Section 6A title game this season, but Alexandria has dominated its section in Class A through much of the last decade before this year. The Cardinals have made 13 state tournaments overall, eight since 2010, and have a Class A state title from 2008. They now have to go through a Class AA field in Section 8 after jumping up a class with the new section assignments.
"With the way our school district has continued to increase in size little by little each year, I figured we had a good chance of getting bumped up within the next five years," Alexandria head coach Molly Arola said of the move. "Just a little surprised it happened this spring."
Alexandria Area High School's listed enrollment on the MSHSL website for this school year is 1,121. By comparison, the team the Cardinals played in the Section 6A title game this winter, Fergus Falls, has a listed enrollment of 596 in grades 9-12.
The MSHSL website states that the method for determining classification during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons for girls hockey is that the top 64 schools play at the Class AA level, with the remaining teams at Class A.
"Whether we are the 63rd or 64th team, so be it," Arola said. "Someone has to be."
Arola was taking a positive approach to the jump up as the Cardinals get set to embark on a new path through the playoffs.
"Our coaching staff is excited for the new challenge and opportunity for our girls, as well as our entire Cardinal girls hockey program," she said. "It is a testament to not only our program, but the growth in our school district that people and families want to be a part of the Alexandria community. This will be a new era of Cardinal girls hockey, and we couldn't be more excited to take on the challenge and begin a new chapter for our program."
Joining Alexandria in Section 8AA is Bemidji, Brainerd-Little Falls, Buffalo, Moorhead, Roseau, St. Cloud and Sartell-St. Stephen. Brainerd-Little Falls won the 8AA title this past season and went on to finish second at the Class AA state tournament after losing in two overtimes to Edina in the championship.
The Cardinals are already quite familiar with a lot of their new section foes after playing them throughout past regular seasons.
Brainerd-Little Falls, St. Cloud and Sartell-St. Stephen are common opponents in the Central Lakes Conference with Alexandria. This past season, the Cardinals beat Moorhead 3-0 and Bemidji 6-0 in matchups with those two out-of-conference teams, as well.
Arola and the Cardinals had done their part in trying to schedule tough Class A and AA programs out of their section and conference in the past as a way to prepare themselves for the playoffs. They will take on this assignment head on as Alexandria transitions to a new level.
"I think that any great team you play, whether it be A or AA, is one and the same," Arola said. "It's not like the game changes from one class to the other. There isn't a separate handbook for the two. You see great players, teams, and programs all across the state regardless of their class. Of course there are teams in our new section that we have not had on our schedule, and we will be facing different talent along the way, but at the end of the day, you still have to compete at the highest level day in and day out regardless."