ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Travis Hochhalter is ready to carry on a legacy with Alex cross country

It would be understandable for any coach coming into a new varsity job to put an emphasis on immediately placing their stamp on the program they are about to lead.

Hochhalter
Alexandria cross country coach Travis Hochhalter shares a laugh with some of his runners on the boys’ team as they wait to get their team picture taken on Wednesday at AAHS. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

It would be understandable for any coach coming into a new varsity job to put an emphasis on immediately placing their stamp on the program they are about to lead.

That’s not exactly what Alexandria’s Travis Hochhalter is concerned about. Perhaps that’s because not a lot needs changing as he prepares to replace Mark Nelsen as the leader of the Cardinal boys’ and girls’ cross country programs.
“Alexandria has an amazing tradition here,” Hochhalter said at a practice on Tuesday. “It’s just been great to see it through the middle school program and actually running against Alexandria when I was from Little Falls. You see Mark Nelsen and he’s an idol to so many kids. You just step in and you keep asking him questions. He’s my mentor and he’s still not out of the program.”

EARNING HIS SHOT
Nelsen was dedicated to his role as the Alexandria cross country coach for more than 30 years before retiring after the 2013 season.
His success was well documented during that time – 25 state appearances for the boys’ team, two team state championships and 20 total appearances at state with the girls’ team. Those are just a few of the accomplishments.
Hochhalter has been a part of that success for more than a decade now as he enters his 13th season within the program. His last 12 years have been spent as the junior high coach of the cross country teams.
He has always been passionate about running himself. Hochhalter ran collegiately at the University of North Dakota where he got a chance to compete at nationals one year with his teammates.
That love for running translated to his desire to coach in the Alexandria program once he took a teaching job with District 206 in 2000. He coached a year of soccer before a position with the cross country program opened up.
Since then, he has worked with Nelsen and former track and field head coach Jerry Amundson in recruiting athletes to the running sports and turning out quality runners.
Hochhalter keeps in frequent contact with Nelsen and Amundson is his assistant this season. He knows having those two as a resource is a luxury and one he is happy to take advantage of.
“I don’t necessarily have to put my stamp on it,” Hochhalter said. “It’s an Alexandria tradition. It’s not about me. It’s about the kids. I’m not doing this for myself. What I’m doing this for is these kids and giving them an opportunity. I know what it’s like to run in high school, and I’m just stepping in and being their mentor.”

NOT MUCH CHANGES
Nelsen is respected across the state for the training programs he creates for kids.
There is often a fine line in distance running between pushing athletes to reach their potential and making sure they don’t overdo it and harm their body. Nelsen seemed to have a feel for where that line was with many of the Cardinals’ top runners being able to avoid serious injury in their careers.
Current athletes say not a lot has changed when it comes to the way they are training under Hochhalter.
“It’s not too much different,” senior Aaron Runge said. “He’s doing all the same workouts and everything. He’s changed it up a little bit, but the strategy is about the same.”

TALENT TO WORK WITH
Hochhalter comes into a situation where there is plenty of talent to work with in the program. Runge paces a senior-laden boys’ team this season that finished 11th at the state meet a year ago.
Runge led the way for that group with a 23rd place individual finish in a time of 16:25. Colton Sailor, Brandon Jerde, Wesley Graves and Jim Pfeffer also got the experience of running at state as juniors and are part of the reason why Hochhalter is optimistic about the boys’ team this fall.
“The ceiling is, and I’m going to put it out there to them, it’s whatever they want to do,” Hochhalter said. “Where is that? You look at it and it’s hard to say without seeing them race personally, but from what they did last year and from the mileage this summer. There’s some kids who put up to 500 miles this summer. There’s quite a few who did the 350 and 250. Really, just looking at workouts right now, it looks like they can do really well.”
On the girls’ side, he has the two best cross country runners in the state at his disposal. Juniors Bethany Hasz and Megan Hasz return as motivated as ever after finishing first and second, respectively, at last year’s state meet.
Hochhalter said his focus from day one with both groups is building a team and building up the confidence in each runner. As far as training goes, most of the athletes already have good habits.
“It’s about building character in these kids,” Hochhalter said. “Program-wise, they know what they’re doing. Every day, Nelsen has written some amazing programs. Will I put my stamp on it? It has to be something that I believe in, but really, I believe in the same thing Mark and Jerry did.”
That’s why Hochhalter is simply excited about the opportunity to build on the success these programs saw under his predecessors. He has the confidence of one of his best runners heading into his first year on the job.
“It’s so different without Nelsen,” Bethany Hasz admitted. “He was awesome to have at practice and he was an awesome coach, but Hochhalter is doing an awesome job too.”

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.
What To Read Next
Alexandria high school alum and current Alexandria Blizzard player Joe Gronholz has signed a tender with the Minnesota Wilderness.
Alexandria went on two big runs at the end of each half in a 73-51 win over Detroit Lakes at Lakeshirts Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.
Douglas County area basketball for Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.
Willmar shut out Alexandria in the final two frames in Saturday's game. The Blizzard are now 21-8-2 on the season.