The Alexandria girls hockey team has stuck out like a sore thumb in Section 6A in the best way possible.

Since 1995, the Cardinals have made it to the state tournament 13 times. That’s the second most appearances to only South St. Paul’s 14 for any program in the state. In that stretch, the Cardinals have two consolations, two third-place finishes and a state championship in 2007-08.

“There’s a lot of history in this program,” head coach Molly Arola said. “Each year is an opportunity for these girls to add to the great history this team has.”

Last winter, Alexandria played its final game in Class A in the section championship game. The Cardinals lost to the Fergus Falls Otters 3-1 in an attempt to make it back to state for a seventh consecutive year.

During the offseason, Alexandria jumped up a class level when new section assignments were announced by the Minnesota State High School League. The Cardinals will now play in Section 8AA. To make it back to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul this winter, they will have to go through one of the toughest sections in the state.

“It’s a good section, and there’s a lot of good teams,” senior Mayson Toft said. “We’ve always worked hard to get where we want to be. Now we have to work even harder.”

The Brainerd Warriors are the defending champions of 8AA. Not only did they make it to the state tournament the last two years, but they fell just short of a championship in their 4-3 loss to Edina in double overtime last winter.

The Roseau Rams have also been a regular at state – appearing five times in the last 11 seasons. Schools like Bemidji, Buffalo and St. Cloud will also look to be a factor.

“We need to be able to trust ourselves and our teammates,” Toft said. “I think we know we can compete with anybody, but we need to be confident when we play.”

Last year, the Cardinals finished with a 15-13 record and a section runner-up trophy. Getting the confidence they need to be successful is going to come with wins early in the season over section opponents.

On Tuesday night, Alexandria got the first of what they hope is many wins as a Class AA team when the Cardinals dominated Moorhead in an 8-1 game.

“This one meant a lot,” junior Ali Castle said. “We’ve been working really hard towards this in the past few years. We were a little nervous about moving up, but it felt good to win that first one.”

The Cardinals are a young group. With only five seniors on the team, production needs to come from some underclassmen if they want to be successful.

“We had a lot of seniors graduate last year,” Toft said. “I’ve seen these girls step up, which has made us all better. We are going to be a better team if we keep pushing ourselves.”

Only time will tell how ready this team is for the next level. The Cardinals aren’t looking at this season as an obstacle, but instead a chance to establish themselves as a power-house program once again.

“I don’t think our girls look at this as a challenge,” Arola said. “They see this as an opportunity to grow this program and do something special.”