Alexandria boys track and field head coach Mike Empting said early this spring when the possibility of a high school sports season was still clinging to hope that he felt this Cardinals’ team was capable of some pretty special things.

A talented group for Alexandria had 13 seniors in Cody Branson, Joey Carlson, Brian Denke, Dane Galloway, Xavier Homelvig, Brendin Houck, Joshua Kietzmann, Isaac Norum, Graham Peterson, Derrek Piepho, Nathan Schneiderhan, Ethan Schroeder and Isaac Siegel ready to help lead the way. They never got that chance with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down sports at all levels.

The Echo Press reached out to each senior on the roster as a way to recognize them. For those who responded, this story is an opportunity for them to share their thoughts centered around four questions: Why do they compete in track and field? What do they miss most about it this spring? What is a favorite memory from competing? What are their future plans after high school, and do they plan on competing again?

(Editor’s note: Look for more stories like this highlighting seniors from area teams both online and within print issues of the Echo Press in the coming weeks.)

Cody Branson

Cody Branson
Cody Branson

Why he competes: I compete in track and field because it’s great for all other sports. Track and field is great for building speed and athleticism.

What he misses most: The things I will miss the most are just being around everyone at meets and practice. Also, the chance to compete and potentially get new personal records and break some more school records.

Favorite memory: Going to state junior year in the 4x200 and 4x100 relays, breaking school records in both of those events, and being the 4x100 state champs.

Future plans: I will be attending Minnesota State University-Moorhead in the fall, majoring in either business or finance. I will be playing football at MSUM. I definitely have track and field to thank for my success on the football field.

Joseph Carlson

Joseph Carlson
Joseph Carlson

Why he competes: I compete in track and field because my junior year I decided to go out for cross country and really fell in love with running. I used to golf in the spring but after a season of cross country, I decided to switch gears and continue to train myself to become a better runner.

What he misses most: Just being with my friends and messing around with each other, whether it be in the locker room or on the bus, at a meet or on a run. I just miss seeing my friends every day and building a connection with them.

Favorite memory: My favorite memory of track was last year winning our section to be able to go to true team state. Then running at true team really was an awesome experience.

Future plans: I plan on attending St. Olaf next year to major in something science related to go into engineering or possibly pre-med. I haven't decided yet whether or not I am going to run at St. Olaf next year or if I am going to pursue my golfing career there.

Brian Denke

Brian Denke
Brian Denke

Why he competes: I have a love for running, and I have always enjoyed how it is an individual sport just as much as it is a team sport. It is also a lot of fun.

What he misses most: I miss running with my teammates and going to races.

Favorite memory: The Alex home meet two years ago when there was a throwers’ 4x4 relay and they used a beef stick as a baton. Also when Joey (Carlson) and myself broke 5 minutes together last year at the home meet.

Future plans: I am joining the United States Marine Corps.

Dane Galloway

Dane Galloway
Dane Galloway

Why he competes: I joined track because of the experiences I had in cross country. Our teams always have been fun to be a part of. Also, competition in track feels more intense, which I enjoy.

What he misses most: I’m going to miss my teammates this spring. Being able to cheer for my friends and watch the younger runners improve is what track is all about.

Favorite memory: My favorite memory from track is running the 800 at true team state last year. Everyone in my heat was so talented, and I loved the opportunity to race them.

Future plans: I plan on continuing my running career at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, while majoring in marketing communications.

Brendin Houck

Brendin Houck
Brendin Houck

Why he competes: I first started because I wanted a way to improve for football, but over the years I’ve begun to love the sport and the group of people in it.

What he misses most: The team atmosphere that we have. Our team is more than a team. We are a family, and that’s what I will miss the most.

Favorite memory: One of my favorite memories is the throwers 4x4 relay I ran as a freshman. Also, the grill outs we have after our home meets.

Future plans: I plan on going to (North Dakota State University) for exercise science. Although I would love to continue to throw, I am not continuing to throw.

Joshua Kietzmann

Joshua Kietzmann
Joshua Kietzmann

Why he competes: The camaraderie of the team is just awesome. I’ve made lifelong friendships with my teammates and love competing alongside a great group of people.

Track and field gives me the opportunity to work toward team and individual goals simultaneously. All the hard work that gets put into the sport during practice is converted into great performances on the track during meets. I love the feeling right before an attempt in the jumps or at the starting line of a hurdle race, where the jitters turn into adrenaline-fueled focus.

What he misses most: I miss joking around at practice and going to the meets with the team. I was really looking forward to this season in particular. The boys team would have been insanely strong, which would have been stellar for a senior season.

I would also have been one of the top athletes in the conference and section, so the fact that I will never know how the season would have ended is tough. However, I don’t miss wearing sweatshirts and sweatpants until the temperature hit 70 degrees.

Favorite memory: I will always remember winning the team conference and true team section titles last year. Training with the hurdlers and the horizontal jump crew made every day at practice great. My funniest memory is during freshman year when we took a victory lap with the conference champion trophy and then being told after a recount that we actually got third.

Future plans: This fall, I am attending the University of St. Thomas to study physics and also compete in track and field.

Derrek Piepho

Derrek Piepho
Derrek Piepho

Why he competes: I don’t like running. I’m going to flat out say that. I first joined because I didn’t have a spring sport and knew it would make me a better football player. I grew to love it. Seeing yourself and everyone around you improve and achieve their goals after working so hard is truly inspiring. Along with the high level of competition, that’s what made it for me.

What he misses most: I miss meet days with my boys. We all had our eyes on getting back to the state meet.

Favorite memory: My favorite memory from track came from state prelims for the (4x200). Going into the race, I think we were seeded dead last. We worked so hard all year. We belonged there, and there was no way we were letting ourselves get embarrassed out there. Everyone on the team rose to the competition, and we PRed by three seconds, breaking our school record and placing fourth, sending us to the finals. It was something special.

Future plans: I’m going to play football at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and am majoring in business management.