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Cross country: Cards like what they see in another loaded field at the Lions Meet

Alexandria cross country coach Travis Hochhalter shares a laugh his varsity girls team right before their race at Saturday's 46th annual Lions Meet of Champions at the Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)1 / 7
Alexandria seventh-grader Jaelyn Miller leads the way for her Alexandria teammates during Saturday's race. Jaelyn finished 22nd overall in 19:38.5 to pace the Cardinals. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)2 / 7
Alexandria junior Bethany Miller (707) runs along the woods with her sister, Jaelyn Miller, not far behind. (Eric Morken / Echo Press) 3 / 7
Alexandria's Aleah Miller (right) and Katelyn Bright run right with each other during Saturday's Lions Meet of Champions. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)4 / 7
Alexandria's Noah Struck runs with the pack during Saturday's Lions Meet of Champions. Struck paced the Alexandria boys with a 63rd-place finish in 17:27.1. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)5 / 7
Alexandria's Dane Galloway (878) runs along the woods during Saturday's Lions Meet of Champions. Galloway finished second for Alexandria and 65th overall in 17:28.2. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)6 / 7
Alexandria's Jacob Kleven runs with the crowd during Saturday's Lions Meet of Champions. Kleven finished third for Alexandria and 67th overall in 17:30.2. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)7 / 7

The Lions Meet of Champions is always a solid test for the many programs that run at the Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center course in Alexandria, and Saturday’s 46th annual meet was no different.

The boys’ field featured Buffalo (eighth), Minnetonka (11th), Mounds View (third), Red Wing (sixth), St. Paul Highland Park (seventh) and Stillwater (fourth) as teams ranked in the top 12 of the Class AA field. The girls’ race added seventh-ranked Willmar, 10th-ranked Marshall, sixth-ranked Stillwater and 12th-ranked White Bear Lake to the mix.

Whichever team came away with the win would have to earn in, and that’s what Stillwater did on the girls’ side with 62 points and Mounds View on the boys’ side with 64.

Alexandria finished 14th out of the 19 teams in attendance for the boys, while the Cardinal girls were sixth with 168 points.

“For the boys and girls, a lot of people consider this a mini state meet,” Alexandria head coach Travis Hochhalter said. “You’re missing a few big ones, the Wayzatas and teams like that, but overall there’s a lot of cities schools that come down. They put a lot of really good runners out there. We held strong, and I’m proud of them.”

For the Alexandria girls, this was going to be a test to see how they fared against other competitors in the Section 8AA field like Monticello and Becker. In that sense, the Cardinals were pleased with what they saw after beating Monticello by 119 points and Becker by 142. Alexandria stuck within 38 points of Central Lakes Conference power Willmar, too.

“I was really happy that we packed it up for the first couple miles today,” Alexandria junior Bethany Miller said. “We started going off in our own directions, but everyone was going to have their own race today.”

Seventh-grader Jaelyn Miller paced the field for Alexandria as she finished 22nd overall in 19:38.5. Bethany (24th) was not far behind in 19:41.9 and their middle sister, Aleah, finished in 29th place in 19:55.5. Caitlin Bright (30th, 19:57.4) and Heavyn Bordak (63rd, 20:39.6) rounded out the scoring for Alexandria, while Stormy Hegg (84th, 21:09.6) and Taelor Dummer (86th, 21:13.4) finished off the lineup.

“As a team, we all want to run together, and we’re hoping to make it to state,” Aleah Miller said. “It’s really doing the little things right as a team at the races and making sure we’re encouraging and positive and running together. Kind of like a check and balance sort of thing.”

This race is the final tuneup before the CLC Championship meet on Oct. 16 at 4 p.m. in Willmar. Then it’s on to the section meet at Thief River Falls on Oct. 25 at 3:30 p.m.

That section race is ultimately where the Cardinals want to be at their best as they shoot for their second straight trip to state as a team.

“When we look at that section meet, we have 20 days left and the top two teams go to the state meet,” Hochhalter said. “That’s what you look at. Every single team that we were talking to today has girls who weren’t racing and girls who are dinged up a little bit. Today, this is the first time we ran our full varsity. I think there’s a lot of things to look forward to. We’re close. We’re getting there, and we’ll be there.”

Alexandria boys finding their pace

The Alexandria boys were led by junior Noah Struck in a time of 17:27.1, good for 63rd place overall.

Dane Galloway was next in 65th place in a time of 17:28.2, and Jacob Kleven rounded out the Cardinals’ top three in 67th place with a time of 17:30.2. Jack Englund (71st, 17:34.8) and Brian Denke (84th, 17:50.2) finished off the scoring, while Hayden Peterson (109th, 18:51.4) and AJ Sparr (111th, 18:54.6) rounded out the team lineup.

“I was really impressed with the boys today,” Hochhalter said. “It was a nice team effort. Brian Denke made a huge move to move up into that pack. There was a huge pack with the team, and I think that is just going to bring them closer together for this year. This group right here is finding their own, and they’re racing hard right now.”

This season was always going to be about progress for the Alexandria boys after losing so many seniors from a state tournament team a year ago. Hochhalter sees that progress with this group, and is excited about their future.

“I think they’ve overachieved just a little bit,” Hochhalter said. “They’re pushing hard and racing. I think some of them are looking already ahead to this summer and putting on some miles. The juniors anyway, and saying, ‘What can we do with this team?’ There’s some really young ninth graders who are moving up nicely, too.”   


GIRLS TOP-10 TEAM FINISHES - Stillwater - 62; Marshall - 95; White Bear Lake - 122; Willmar - 130; St. Paul Highland Park - 151; Alexandria - 168; Sioux Falls Washington - 197; Roseville - 200; Minnetonka - 202; Mounds View - 228; Osakis - 19th, 594

BOYS TOP-10 TEAM FINISHES - Mounds View - 64; Stillwater - 85; Red Wing - 123; St. Paul Highland Park - 127; White Bear Lake - 158; Buffalo - 165; Chanhassen - 198; Roseville - 200; Willmar - 221; Sartell - 263; Alexandria - 14th, 350; Osakis - 18th, 520

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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