Top-seeded Alexandria one win away from a second straight 8-3A title

Alexandria's defense has been at its best the last couple games, and it has the Cardinals back in the Section 8-3A title game after taking care of Sartell in the semifinals on Tuesday.

Alexandria's Myah Kremer races to a loose ball with Sartell's Megan Driste during the first half on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

There are certain programs that meet and tend to play close games against each other regardless of the records of both teams.

Section 8-3A’s top-seeded Alexandria girls basketball team (16-4) finished well in front of fourth-seeded Sartell (8-12) in the conference and section standings this year, but the Sabres played the Cardinals close during the regular season. They fell by just three on Feb. 8 and 13 in the rematch on March 6. Alexandria grabbed control a little earlier in the Section 8-3A semifinals on Tuesday night in a 50-30 win that advances them to Friday’s section championship.

“We give a lot of credit to our JV team. They ran a lot of scout stuff the last couple days,” Alexandria senior guard Mataya Hoelscher said after scoring 11 points. “That helped us be able to defend and just come out strong because we had that edge.”

Alexandria senior guard Mataya Hoelscher puts in a floater in the lane during the Cardinals' win over Sartell on Tuesday night in the section semifinals. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)


Alexandria played energized from the get-go, jumping out to a 7-0 lead. The Sabres cut their deficit to 12-11 midway through the half, but the Cardinals used a 16-0 run to help them grab a 30-14 lead by the break.

Alexandria never wavered in the second half. A Hoelscher three gave the Cardinals a 40-21 lead with 12 minutes left. They extended the lead to as much as 23 after a Lilly Horn three a few minutes later. Horn finished with a game-high 14 points.

“That momentum was huge going into the half,” Hoelscher said. “Then it carried into the start of the second half and the rest of the game, so that was great.”

Alexandria’s defense has allowed a section-low 43.3 points a game. The Cardinals have been dominant on that end of the court through two playoff games.

Alexandria sophomore Morgan Jones gets around the defense of Sartell's Courtney Snoberger during the first half on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Alexandria limited St. Cloud Apollo to three first-half points and 19 total in the playoff opener on March 18. They then held the Sabres to 21 points below their season average.

“I think we definitely have,” senior forward Alayna Strand said when asked if the Cardinals have taken their defense to another level this postseason. “We just want to keep working and getting better. We prioritize defense.”


The top-seeded Cardinals have left no doubt through their first two games, and they were left to wait a couple of hours to see which team they will get in the section championship. The winner of second-seeded Detroit Lakes (12-6) and third-seeded Bemidji (9-10) will be in Alexandria on Friday night.

Alexandria 8th-grade guard Hadley Thul releases a three from the right corner during the first half on Tuesday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Section 8-3A girls championship game will be at 5 p.m. if the Alexandria boys also host their section championship on Friday night. The girls game will be at 7 p.m. Friday if the Alexandria boys drop their semifinal game with St. Cloud Apollo later Tuesday night.

The Alexandria girls swept the Lumberjacks by a combined 40 points in the regular season. The Lakers handed the Cardinals their only section loss of the year on Feb. 16 in a 53-40 final.

The Alexandria bench cheers on a bucket by teammate Cate Bloom in the first half on Tuesday night in the Cardinals' win over Sartell-St. Stephen in the Section 8-3A semifinals. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“DL is bigger than us, so we’re going to prioritize boxing out and being big if it’s them,” Strand said. “Then it’s prioritizing defense. After that (loss to Detroit Lakes), we knew we had to box out better, we had to rebound better. If we prioritize that, we’ll do pretty good.”


The Cardinals started the season not knowing if they would get a chance to play in a section tournament during the pandemic. Now that it’s here, this senior-laden group is excited for the opportunity in front of it.

“We’ve been waiting for this the entire year,” Hoelscher said. “This is what we play for. This is what we work for, so we’ll be ready.”

ALEXANDRIA (16-4) 30 20 - 50

SARTELL (8-12) 14 16 - 30

ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Jaya Hatlestad - 6; Morgan Jones - 4; Myah Kremer - 3; Cate Bloom - 4; Mataya Hoelscher - 11; Alayna Strand - 4; Lilly Horn - 14; Hadley Thul - 2; Kaia Emter - 2

SARTELL SCORING - Megan Driste - 7; Ella Gainsforth - 3; Chloe Swanson - 3; Rylie DeMaine - 5; Emily Crandall - 5; Courtney Snoberger - 7


Alexandria senior Alayna Strand looks for an open teammate during the first half of the Cardinals' win over Sartell in the Section 8-3A playoffs on Tuesday. (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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