Girls basketball: Alexandria takes home Section 8AAA title
Alexandria held the Sauk Rapids-Rice Storm to 10 points in the second half of the Section 8AAA title game in a 69-44 win. Alexandria has now punched its ticket to the 2023 state tournament.
COLLEGEVILLE - The Alexandria girls basketball team earned the No. 1 seed in the Section 8AAA playoffs thanks to strong energy, defense and unselfish play in the regular season.
In the Section 8AAA Championship game on Thursday, the No. 3 seed Sauk Rapids-Rice Storm gave the Cardinals a good battle, but dominant defense in the second half and strong team play led the Cardinals to win 69-44 and advance to the MSHSL Class AAA State Tournament.
"This feels amazing," Alexandria head coach Wendy Kohler said. "They've bought in, worked hard all season, and they've continued to improve throughout the course of a long season. They play so well together, and they couldn't deserve it more."
Alexandria (24-4) led 32-21 with 5:48 left in the first half, but Sauk Rapids-Rice (18-11) went on a 9-0 run to cut the Alexandria lead to two points with 2:45 left in the first half.
Alexandria held a 36-34 lead at halftime.
In the second, Alexandria outscored Sauk Rapids-Rice 33-10 in the second half to seal the 25-point win.
"We told them at halftime that we felt like they didn't play much defense at all in the first half," Kohler said. "We just needed to concentrate on getting stops and locking down in the half-court. We needed to focus on not getting overextended, closing our hands high, locking them up, keeping them on one side, and all those kinds of things that are our philosophy. They bought in; they realized we needed to start getting stops and then get out, go to the other end, and start playing together more."
The Cardinals made the most of the 26 turnovers that they created as they had a 36-11 points off turnovers edge.
The Cardinals never trailed in the game and led for 35 minutes and 35 seconds of the 36-minute game at Saint John's University.
"This group is very focused, and they have fun," Kohler said. "They keep it in perspective and play the game the right way. They're unselfish, and they play together. They put a lot of time into the offseason, and a lot of the girls play AAU. They bring their offseason work in the gym and in our tournaments, and they bring that into practice. I'm just really proud of them. They're multi-sport athletes who are fun to coach."
Alexandria forced 26 Sauk Rapids-Rice turnovers (17 of which were steals) and held Sauk Rapids-Rice to 36.5 percent shooting from the field while Alexandria shot 48 percent from the field.
"Sauk Rapids is a good team that likes to drive and kick, and they shoot the ball well," Alexandria sophomore Hadley Thul said. "We just had to get up to them and be ready for their shot."
The Cardinals beat the Storm twice in the regular season, 66-62 on the road on Dec. 2, 2022, and 85-49, on Jan. 24, 2023, at home.
Alexandria started the game well, as it led 14-4 in the first four minutes of the game.
Thul and fellow sophomore Allie Haabala got going early for the Cardinals, as they each had 15 points at halftime.
"Our teammates were there for us and were helping us out," Thul said. "If we made mistakes, they'd be right there to pick us up."
In the second half, sophomores MaCee Linow and Chloe Scholl's 21 combined points (13 for Linow and eight for Scholl) helped put the game away.
"I think probably the biggest thing is that we played together in the second half," Kohler said. "I felt like we started out strong, but then we went through a big portion of the first half where I think everybody so badly wanted to make something happen. That's not good; That's a perfect storm for turning it over and not being in sync. I thought in the second half, we got back to just being us, getting the ball rotated, feeding the hot hands and executing, setting better screens, and we pulled away."
Thul finished with a double-double, 20 points, and 10 rebounds to go along with five steals. Haabala finishes with 19 points on the night and three steals.
Freshman Kate Hennessy was very active on the defensive end, as she had four steals and a team-high four blocks. Fellow freshman Lauren Beyer provided the Cardinals with five rebounds and four assists. Her four assists tied the team-high, along with Scholl.
Alexandria came into the section title game with an 82-48 win over the No. 4 seed Willmar in the section semifinals, while Sauk Rapids-Rice beat the No. 6 seed, Little Falls, 54-37, in the section quarterfinals and a 59-55 win over the No. 2 seed, Detroit Lakes, 59-55, in the section semifinals.
"We knew Sauk Rapids was going to play us tough because that's what they did to DL," Thul said. "Having this feeling of winning is great. It's crazy."
With this win, Alexandria, who was ranked No. 8 in the last Minnesota Basketball News poll of the season, is now the Section 8AAA and Central Lakes Conference champion for this season.
This upcoming state tournament appearance marks the third time Alexandria has made the state tournament in the last four years.
The MSHSL Class AAA State Tournament begins on Wednesday, March 15, on the University of Minnesota Campus at Maturi Pavillion.
The semifinals and championship game will be played at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, while the consolation games and the third-place game will be at the Gangelhoff Center on the campus of Concordia University in St. Paul.
Alexandria has won 20 out of its last 21 games dating back to Dec. 30, 2022.
Sauk Rapids-Rice - 34 10 - 44
Alexandria - 36 33 - 69
SAUK RAPIDS-RICE TEAM STATS - FG - 15-41; 3-PT - 4-12; FT - 10-14; Rebounds - 29; Assists - 8; Turnovers - 26; Blocks - 1; Fouls 18; Steals - 4
ALEXANDRIA TEAM STATS - FG - 25-52; 3-PT - 7-20; FT - 12-21; Rebounds - 31; Assists - 18; Fouls - 16; Turnovers - 13; Steals - 17
SAUK RAPIDS-RICE PLAYER STATS - Mackenzie Felchie - 3 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists; Grace Roesch - 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists; Courtney Paulsen - 14 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal; Sienna Petermeier - 3 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal; Mia Rogholt - 8 points, 4 rebounds; 1 assist; Lauren Schloe - 2 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block; Ella Jevne - 4 points, 2 rebounds; Olivia Mohs - 2 rebounds; Annika Broman - 1 rebound
ALEXANDRIA PLAYER STATS - Hadley Thul - 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 steals, 2 blocks; Chloe Scholl - 10 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block; MaCee Linow - 16 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists; Allie Haabala - 19 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, 3 steals; Kate Hennessy - 1 point, 2 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 blocks; Lauren Beyer - 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals; Morgan Seesz - 1 rebound; Camree Miller - 3 points, 2 steals; Ella Steussy - 1 steal