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Basketball: Alexandria still the team to beat in 8-3A, even with Kristen Hoskins no longer on the roster

Alexandria senior Erik Hedstrom reached the 1,000-point milestone just one possession into the game on Friday night. He had 15 points for a Cardinals program that won its seventh straight game and continues to prove that this is a roster filled with talented players who fully believe all their goals are still in front of them at 18-4 now.

Eric Hedstrom
Eric Hedstrom, 22, hugs his teammates at a stoppage in play after Hedstrom's three on the very first possession of the game against St. Cloud Apollo gave him his 1,000th-career point on Feb. 25, 2022. It was part of a 69-49 win over the Eagles that moved the Cardinals to 18-4 overall.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

The Alexandria boys basketball team has clarity with its roster now, and the Cardinals are confident that they have what it takes to make another long playoff run despite losing their starting point guard.

After a seventh straight win on Friday night, that confidence looks justified.

Alexandria senior Kristen Hoskins had been out of the Cardinals’ lineup since a win over Willmar on Feb. 4 for what head coach Forrest Witt called personal reasons.

Coaches thought that Hoskins was returning to the team for the rest of the season last week, but Witt said Hoskins informed them on Thursday, Feb. 17, that he was leaving the program in what Witt said was a personal decision for Hoskins.

Despite some uncertainty on the roster, the Cardinals sit at 18-4 with all of their goals still in front of them after a 69-49 win over St. Cloud Apollo (7-15) on Friday night.

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“I think with whatever we’ve been faced with, somebody else has stepped up,” Witt said. “That’s kind of been our M.O. this year is our depth and ability for somebody to step up, whether it’s an injury or someone not with the team for a certain amount of time. We’ve been pretty good at handling that.”

Hoskins scored his 1,000th-career point in a 69-40 win over Fergus Falls on Jan. 13 of this season. He was a starter on last year’s team that finished second at the Class AAA state tournament, but that team and this year’s group have shown they are as much about depth on the roster as they are about any one person.

“Like we’ve been saying, we have a lot of talent on our team,” Alexandria’s Erik Hedstrom said. “Our JV is very good. They push us every day in practice, so a lot of younger guys and guys who didn’t get to play before are getting an opportunity. A lot of guys are stepping up. Not just the original starters, but people off the bench like Will Heydt and Peter Sansted are doing a great job for us.”

Erik Hedstrom
Alexandria senior forward Erik Hedstrom puts up a shot in the lane against St. Cloud Apollo's Thomas Diew on Feb. 25, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Friday’s game was a big one for Hedstrom as the senior forward reached the 1,000-point milestone in his career. It took all of one possession as he drilled a three from the left wing on the first play.

“My teammates were daring me to shoot it right away. They didn’t think I’d do it, so I just had to go for it. Witt’s mad because I messed up the play, but I think it worked out,” Hedstrom said with a smile. “It was supposed to be where I screen and roll, but I popped instead.”

Sophomore Grayson Grove was the first one to meet Hedstrom with a hug. The entire bench then ran out to congratulate him once the refs stopped the game. Fans gave him a standing ovation as they held up signs with the number 1,000.

“It’s a big achievement, but I’m just more happy that we got the team win and that everyone on our team is healthy. Everyone on our team is so supportive,” Hedstrom said. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without the coaches, or the other players and my family around me. I’m just really appreciative tonight of them.”

Eric Hedstrom
Alexandria sophomore Grayson Grove, 33, rushes over to senior Erik Hedstrom to congratulate Hedstrom after his three on the first possession on Feb. 25, 2022 gave him 1,000 points in his career.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Hedstrom led the Cardinals with 15 points. Since his sophomore year, he has shown an ability to take opposing big men down low or shoot to the three-point line. Hedstrom is also going to battle for rebounds and play with energy every night.

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“He’s one of the better practice players that we’ve ever had, and that’s a big reason why he’s been successful is just his consistent approach to the game,” Witt said. “He puts in a lot of time in the offseason, a very good leader. He just goes about things the right way. I’m happy for him, and it’s certainly very deserving.”

Alexandria came into Friday's game fresh off one of its biggest road wins of the season on Thursday when the Cardinals won at Sartell (18-6). That 62-55 win helped Alexandria (11-2 CLC) keep pace with Brainerd (14-8, 11-2 CLC) in the race for a conference title.

The Cardinals’ win over Apollo also moved them to 11-0 against Section 8-3A opponents with one section game left, at St. Cloud Tech (13-7) on Feb. 28.

Thomas Diew
St. Cloud Apollo senior Thomas Diew looks for an open teammate against the double team of Alexandria's Myles Sansted, left, and Erik Hedstrom on Feb. 25, 2022. Diew had a game-high 32 points for the Eagles.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Alexandria won on Friday despite a dominant effort at times from Apollo senior big man Thomas Diew. He finished with a game-high 32 points and had the first 18 points of the game for the Eagles. That kept his team within five points at the half, but Alexandria’s depth was too much for Apollo over 36 minutes.

Sophomore Grayson Grove had 12 points, including a momentum-building dunk in the second half that was set up perfectly by senior guard Carter Steffensmeier. Steffensmeier led the fast break and saw Grove trailing him as he put the ball off the backboard for Grove, who came in for a dunk that made it 42-33 with 14 minutes left.

Steffensmeier had 8 points, while Myles Sansted and Zach Gundberg each added 10 to make it four players in double figures for the Cardinals.

“I thought our guys didn’t get rattled,” Witt said. “We knew Apollo was playing much better basketball now than they were early in the season. We just stayed the course, got a little bit more efficient offensively. Defensively, we were pretty good aside from Thomas getting loose on us sometimes, but he’s a good player too. He made some tough plays.”

There is plenty of substance to the current seven-game winning streak for the Cardinals. Sartell had beaten Alexandria in a 62-52 game on Jan. 18. The Sabres feature one of the top players in the state in senior forward Mason Lund, but Alexandria held them to their second lowest point total of the season on Thursday.

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Other notable wins for the Cardinals during their recent run came on the road at Sauk Rapids-Rice (12-10) on Jan. 31 and at Bemidji (12-5) on Feb. 8, around a dominant home win against Marshall (14-12) on Feb. 5.

“We expect the same thing of ourselves,” Hedstrom said when asked about playing without Hoskins the rest of the year. “Play hard together, work hard during practice, do the best we can as a team, and keep getting better every day. We’re just going to play Alexandria basketball and see how far we can go with it.”

The Cardinals are the clear front-runners to get the No. 1 seed in the section playoffs. They are currently ranked as the seventh best team in Class AAA through the QRF on Minnesota-scores.net , with Sauk Rapids-Rice (17th QRF) and St. Cloud Tech (19th QRF) behind them in those 8-3A standings. The section will be seeded by the QRF on March 5.

The Cardinals still have four games left on the regular-season schedule. That includes the big one at St. Cloud Tech on Monday before what could be a game that decides the CLC championship at home against Brainerd on March 4.

This team entered the season with expectations of competing for a section title and seeing what they could do at state if they can get there. That remains the goal.

“I don’t think really anything has changed in our minds with where we feel that we can get to,” Witt said. “We’re still strong contenders for the conference championship and the section championship. We feel we still have very good players, and I think the guys have proven that. We’ve had to evolve and change a little bit with how we play, but I’m real confident with where we’re at right now with one more week, four games to continue to try to get better."

ALEXANDRIA    31 38 - 69

ST. CLOUD APOLLO     26 23 - 49

ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Carter Steffensmeier - 8; Turner Haar - 1; Myles Sansted - 10; Peter Sansted - 3; Wyatt Odland - 4; Erik Hedstrom - 15; Zach Gundberg - 10; Grayson Grove - 12; Elijah Vanderveer - 6

ST. CLOUD APOLLO SCORING - Tate Watkins - 1; Thomas Diew - 32; Azayah Washington - 4; J’amari Abston - 2; Chris Montesclaros - 2; Angel Martinez - 1; Jikany Deang - 7

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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