Alexandria shakes off disappointment of the past to get back to state for first time since 2014

Hedstrom, Hoskins and Steffensmeier all finish in double figures, and Alexandria's defense is dominant again as the Cardinals brush off any nerves from falling short in tough losses during the section tournament the last two years to secure a spot at state for the eighth time in program history.

Alexandria senior Colton Roderick jumps into the arms of sophomore Jaxon Schoenrock as the Cardinals storm the court to celebrate their Section 8-3A championship on Friday night. It's the eighth section title in program history for the Alexandria boys and their first since 2014. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Alexandria boys basketball program has had multiple heartbreaking playoff losses that have kept the Cardinals from winning Section 8-3A titles with good teams in recent years.

St. Cloud Apollo won in the final seconds last season, and Sartell-St. Stephen stormed back to take a 55-50 game in the semifinals on March 8, 2019. Many players on this current team remember those games vividly, but instead of that disappointment creating added pressure, the Cardinals (20-1) used it as fuel on their way to beating second-seeded Sauk Rapids-Rice (11-7) 58-40 for the section championship on Friday night. It marks the eighth time in program history that Alexandria will play in the state tournament, and first time since 2014.

“All I can say it’s about time,” Alexandria’s Colton Roderick said. “We’ve lost the last couple years on heartbreakers, and we’re just so happy to get it. It means so much.”

Roderick is the lone senior in a starting lineup filled with juniors in Carter Steffensmeier, Kristen Hoskins, Erik Hedstrom and Wyatt Odland. Roderick got big minutes on both of the teams from the previous two seasons that felt just short of this goal.


Alexandria senior Colton Roderick hangs in the air against the Sauk Rapids-Rice defense during the first half on Friday night before releasing a shot. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“I just feel like that’s motivation,” Roderick said. “I think about it, and that’s what pushes me to work harder and be better.”

Alexandria came out aggressive from the get-go and built a 22-7 lead against Sauk Rapids. Hoskins had eight quick points behind a couple of made threes, and Hedstrom hit a three in the final seconds of the half to give the Cardinals a 30-18 advantage at the break.

“We’ve been waiting for this,” Roderick said. “We knew this was a game we wanted to win. We’ve been flirting with it the last couple of years, so we just said right from the start we’re going to jump on them. That’s what we did.”

The Storm cut their deficit to eight early in the second half, but Alexandria never panicked. A Steffensmeier drive and bucket made it 47-30 with 10 minutes left. Odland followed with a three a few minutes later to give the Cardinals a 20-point cushion.

Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt shouts direction to his team as the Cardinals defense Sauk Rapids-Rice on Friday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“For our program as a whole this means a lot,” Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. “There’s a lot of guys who were part of our program and on good teams that didn’t get an opportunity. The foundation each year has really been heightened, and then that next group, while it’s not easy, they have a good, solid base to build from.”


Witt wants to be a program that has sustained success each season, and the Cardinals are getting to that point. Alexandria has 59 wins over the past three seasons. All year, players and coaches have talked about how talented their junior varsity team is too.

“There’s a lot of games where we are so prepared because they give us more fits in practice than we see on a game night,” Witt said. “That’s a big part of it. It’s an entire team effort.”

Alexandria junior guard Kristen Hoskins lets out a scream after knocking down a first-half three on Friday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

It has Witt excited about the potential being there for the Cardinals to become more frequent participants of the state tournament in the future.

“I feel really good with where we’re at from the varsity group all the way down into our middle school and youth programs,” Witt said. “Our AYBC is a fantastic program that really has grown a lot, and we have a lot of teams having a lot of success. Our guys on the varsity recognize that. They know the younger kids, and that’s a big part of what it’s all about. Those young guys know the varsity kids and see that and say, ‘Hey, I can do that. I can have that opportunity in five, six, seven years.’”

It’s been a process getting back to the state tournament for this program, and one of the biggest reasons this group accomplished that feat is its commitment to defense. Sauk Rapids-Rice came into Friday’s championship averaging almost 60 points per game before Alexandria held the Storm to a season-low 40.


Alexandria's Erik Hedstrom puts up a three in the first half of the Cardinals' Section 8-3A championship win over Sauk Rapids-Rice. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“Our emphasis was to defend the three-point line and contain (Elijah Moilanen),” Witt said. “We did a fantastic job getting out to three-point shooters with the exception of probably only two or three times. It was just a dialed in, focused effort on that end.”

It’s been that way almost all season. Opponents score just 50.8 points a night against Alexandria. That’s the sixth fewest in all of Class AAA.

“The offensive talent is there. Guys don’t always buy in defensively (every year). I think we’ve given up 120 points (total) in three section games,” Witt said. “When you do that and you have the offensive talent we have, you’re going to win some games. It’s fun to see them embrace the defensive end and really make it tough for an opponent.”

The Alexandria bench reacts to a made shot in the first half of Friday night's Section 8-3A championship game against Sauk Rapids-Rice. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Cardinals will play in the Class AAA state quarterfinals at a regional location that will be determined on Saturday. Winners of quarterfinal games move on to the semifinals on April 8 at the Target Center in Minneapolis, with the championship game set for April 10.

“We’re going to work hard and do the best we can,” Roderick said. “Defense is what’s going to lead us, and hopefully we can make a far run in the tournament.”


ALEXANDRIA (20-1) 30 28 - 58

SAUK RAPIDS-RICE (11-8) 18 22 - 40

ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Carter Steffensmeier - 10; Wyatt Odland - 3; Kristen Hoskins - 12; Erik Hedstrom - 18; Colton Roderick - 8; Kobe Jenson - 7

SAUK RAPIDS-RICE SCORING - Dominic Mathies - 9; Elijah Moilanen - 8; Ethan Opsahl - 4; Alexander Harren - 4; Andrew Kath - 2; Jayce Walrath - 6; Bryce Lund - 2; Carter Loesch - 5

Alexandria's Kobe Jenson fights for a loose ball against Sauk Rapids-Rice's Jayce Walrath during the first half on Friday night in the Section 8-3A championship game. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

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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