The Alexandria boys track and field team built a lot of momentum during the 2019 season that this group was excited to build upon in 2020.

The Cardinals finished sixth with 29 team points at last year’s state meet at Hamline University. That was behind the strength of a group of athletes who proved to be some of the best in the state, and the sprinters were a big part of that.

The 4x100 relay team of Kristen Hoskins, Cody Branson, Nolan Morical and Drew Olson won a championship in 41.92 seconds. Olson, who also won the 100-meter individual title, is a big piece Alexandria would have to replace, but Branson, Hoskins and Morical were all expected back again to form a strong sprinting nucleus.

“I feel like the boys team was going to be pretty strong this season,” head coach Mike Empting said. “We had 3-of-4 guys returning from the state champion 4x100 relay team, all members returning from the all-state 4x200 (Derrek Piepho, Branson, Morical and Graham Peterson) and 3-of-4 members of the state-qualifying 4x400 (Peterson, Ethan Schroeder and Jack Theien). I feel like we were going to be deep and strong in the sprints.”

Joshua Kietzmann was returning to lead the hurdlers, and Branson was going to make a move to hurdles, as well.

“In the long and triple jump, we had Piepho, Branson, Kietzmann and Peterson all returning,” Empting said. “High jump, we had Morical returning and Hoskins making a move there with others up-and-coming. We had several returning in the pole vault and throws that had great seasons last year and were looking to make a move this season.”

Dane Galloway, Brian Denke and Cameron Hochsprung are a few of the distance runners that Empting felt were ready to contend near the top of the conference and section.

“As a team, we were looking to defend our CLC title, section True Team Championship and make a run at the section and have great state performances,” Empting said. “There was a lot of hope and promise for this team. Very talented and several new faces that would have filled some spots, as well.”

Empting knows that getting back on the track might not happen this spring, but he is confident in the work ethic of a lot of these athletes during their time away from each other.

“As coaches, we have been doing what we can for them,” Empting said. “We have been limited by the state high school League, but we have been providing workouts for kids to do on a voluntary basis and have been connecting with them as much as we can.”

Empting is a career coach in football and track and field, and he says he misses the daily interactions with the kids the most while being away during this pandemic.

“People who go into coaching and teaching do so because they believe they can make a difference in the lives of the kids that they work with,” Empting said. “As a coach, you have the ability to make connections with kids that you just can't make in the classroom. You have a platform to work with kids and forge relationships like very few other professions and being ‘coach’ doesn't stop. For a lot of kids, the connections they have with their sports, their team and their coach is what keeps them connected to school.”

Empting said coaching during this time has not stopped, but it has changed in many ways.

“Right now, we are worrying less about training and strategy and working very hard at keeping these kids as connected as we can,” he said. “We are doing virtual meetings with the team. We have also had some team challenges for the boys team versus the girls team to try to keep kids connected and keep the team cohesive.”

(Editor’s note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnesota State High School League spring activities season is suspended through at least May 4. Whether a season will be played at all is very much up in the air, but these spring preview stories are meant to give coaches for area teams an opportunity to share what they think their players might be capable of if any type of season is played this year.)

2020 ALEXANDRIA BOYS TRACK AND FIELD

SENIORS - Cody Branson, Joey Carlson, Brian Denke, Dane Galloway, Xavier Homelvig, Brendin Houck, Joshua Kietzmann, Isaac Norum, Graham Peterson, Derrek Piepho, Nathan Schneiderhan, Ethan Schroeder, Isaac Siegel; JUNIORS - Gunner Anderson, Brady Anderson, Jager Gange, Neko Glaser, Nathan Halstead, Cameron Hochsprung, Nicholas Huss, Lance Jacobson, Jackson Jahnke, Jacob Kleven, Nathan Klimek, Kyler Miller, Nolan Morical, Torrey Olson-Rodel, Levi Rekedal, Logan Rekedal, Carson Schreck, AJ Sparr, Jaegar Steele, Aaron Stotesbery, Jack Struck, Ibukun Taiwo, Bennett Wirth; SOPHOMORES - Gavin Ashmore, Fequiere Becker, Logan Biggar, Benjamin Borden, Joel Brault, Aidan Garcia, Dakota Giese, Zachary Gundberg, Zander Homelvig, Ethan Hoppe, Kristen Hoskins, Matthew Johnson, Thomas Klecker, Joseph Lanoux, Ashur Nelson, Wyatt Odland, Sam Peterson, Logan Peterson, Teagan Pfeffer, Calen Piepho, Myles Sansted, Erik Schabel, Evan Schroeder, Mason Teaser, Jack Theien, Alex Zavadil; FRESHMEN - Nicholas Borden, Izaya Bruso, Keenan Bruso, Mitchell Chilan, Gavryn Fernholz, Bryr Homelvig, Foxx Johnson, Kelly Johnson, Jordan Nicholson, Nolan Peterson, Noah Pohlen, Logan Tung, Bryan Vidaurri