In their own words: Alexandria athletes talk about their expectations for the winter season

Alexandria's AJ Sparr (right) wrestles in a match against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Dec. 19, 2019. Sparr is just a handful of wins away from reaching the 100-win milestone for his career if the Cardinals are able to get on the mat this winter season. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

High school winter sports teams across Minnesota are waiting anxiously to see what the future of their seasons might be with the current pause in sports running through Dec. 18.

The Echo Press reached out to some Alexandria Area High School seniors who are a big part of their winter teams to hear how they are staying ready right now for a story that will run in the Dec. 4 issue of the print paper.

Here is more from the athletes on how they are handling the uncertainty surrounding their seasons in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Questions and answers are edited for length.

Colton Roderick, Alexandria boys basketball guard


Colton Roderick

Q: Where is your head at in terms of not knowing if you will have a season or not?

Roderick: I’m just kind of taking it as it comes. I’m trying to prepare for college too, so I’m doing a lot of workouts on my own. (Alexandria head coach Forrest) Witt has also sent us ball-handling workouts, so we’ve been doing that. I just take it as it comes, trying to stay busy and prepare for college next year. I can’t wait to just get back out on the court.

Grant Rebrovich, Alexandria boys hockey forward

Grant Rebrovich

Q: Are you optimistic about the prospects of having a season? Nervous?

Rebrovich: I’m definitely optimistic about having a season, whether it’s a full season or not (I don’t know). With all the support we have, I think there’s going to be something for us. In golf last spring, even though our season got canceled, everybody backed us and we had some opportunities as a team to do some stuff through different organizations and play.


I think even if we do get shut down from the MSHSL, we have too many people out there who are going to back us and let us play, even if it’s a weekend scrimmage type thing. I think that would be well worth it.

Q: After a 19-9 season a year ago, what is this group of guys capable of if you get on the ice?

Rebrovich: We have a lot of good leaders, and then the new kids are extremely talented and fit right in. Contrary to my first few years, I think a lot more of the sophomores are going to play a key role in the lineup. Then back at goalie, we have one of the best goalies in the state (Christopher Loken). I think the sky is the limit, especially with (St. Cloud) Cathedral kind of going down with their studs leaving this year. I’m optimistic that we’ll have a great team.

Mataya Hoelscher, Alexandria girls basketball guard

Mataya Hoelscher

Q: What are you doing right now to stay ready in terms of basketball?

Hoelscher: Without being able to get into a gym, it really limits our opportunities to stay on top of our skills. Personally, I have a ball-handling app that I use every day. Then when days are nice like today, I’ll go outside and shoot...It’s limited basketball-wise with just ball handling and shooting because you can’t really play with other people because of social distancing.


Our weight room coaches have created a program for athletes three times a week to strength train from our own home virtually. It’s really nice to have dedicated strength coaches who are looking out for our athletes. It’s just running, trying to stay on top of my cardio.

Q: You were part of the group that was down at the state tournament last season when things shut down. Could you have ever imagined then that your next season might be affected by the pandemic too?

Hoelscher: Never in a million years. We had played our first game, getting ready for practice the next day and we got the message that the NBA shut down. We’re like, ‘What the heck? That’s weird. Didn’t see that happening.’ Not even 15 minutes later, (head coach) Wendy (Kohler) called us together and said we were going to be playing our last game that day.

I remember hearing my parents talk with other parents about what if it impacts our season next year. I was sitting with some of my teammates like Jaya Hatlestad and Cate Bloom and saying there’s no way. It’s going to be gone by then. Now, we’re in December and it’s still not gone and we should be in our first week of games this week. It’s so tough to deal with that right now and just not knowing.

AJ Sparr, Alexandria wrestler

AJ Sparr

Q: How are you staying connected to your teammates?


Sparr: We have a group chat where we stay in contact with each other. A big thing a lot of us have been doing is reviewing some of our older matches, just to get on the mental side of what we need to work on. Then we’re trying to work out whenever we can. We do what’s called shadow wrestling, so it’s like if you had an opponent in front of you, what would you do?

Q: How do you think shadow wrestling and getting in that type of practice will specifically help if you do get on the mat with an opponent?

Sparr: One of the first things that it does is it’s a good way of building cardio. You’re still doing all the movements even if you don’t have the resistance of an opponent. On top of that, if you’re doing this and visualizing it, then when you step on the mat and go for these moves, it just correlates really well with the match. You just kind of make it muscle memory.

Jaya Hatlestad, Alexandria girls basketball guard

Jaya Hatlestad

Q: You have been on this team for years now, but this is your senior year. What is it like for you knowing nothing is even guaranteed about getting the chance to play?

Hatlestad: All of us seniors, we have six or seven of us, we’ve been waiting for this moment. We’ve been talking about it since we were young. Our senior year, our biggest dream is to go to state, win state. If we do get a season, I will be so grateful and so blessed with that just because I’ve been looking forward to that my whole life.


Sadly, if we don’t, I’m still grateful and thankful for the opportunity that I’ve had in the past years. They’ve been so fun, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Q: This program has a history of success. What would this team be capable of?

Hatlestad: No matter who we graduate, there’s always people who come in with the same mindset and culture that we’ve lived with. Other teams may be thinking they lost this big contributor. What’s going to happen? We have people who step up, and this year I think we have so much skill, so much talent. We might not be as tall, but we’re going to be fast and every person contributes their own things to the game. I feel like this group would be special.

Anna Doherty, Alexandria girls hockey forward

Anna Doherty

Q: You have been a part of this varsity program since eighth grade, but how does a senior season feel different? What is the significance of that senior season for an athlete?

Doherty: You have one last chance to leave your mark on our program and leave your legacy behind. That definitely brings more excitement and anticipation. But it’s obviously different this year, and it’s harder.


We grew up with this group of girls. A lot of time, a lot of practice and sacrifice and work has been put in with this group of girls. We’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of success together, so the thought of missing out on one more opportunity definitely hits the heart a little harder.

Q: You proved last year that you can play at the Class AA level by getting 17 wins after making the jump from Class A. What is the next step for this group now if you get the chance?

Doherty: Last year was a year of growth. Our team hit some really low moments and we had some unfortunate things that happened. It was a year where we all came together. We grew as a team, and our relationships grew.

Going into AA hockey, you don’t know what to expect because you haven’t been there and you haven’t played the teams that have higher skill like that. Everything you’re doing, you have to take to the next step. We’re still the underdogs. It’s just our second year, but now that we know what to expect, it makes it easier for us to navigate the process a little bit more.

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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