The Alexandria girls’ basketball team will need a few things to go its way tonight if the Cardinals are going to pull off the upset against Fergus Falls in the 8AAA title game.
The Otters come into the game 27-1 with their only loss of the year coming to Hawley in a 41-37 game. I talked to someone familiar with that game and was told that the Nuggets got an early lead and did everything they could to slow down the pace from that point on.
That’s good in theory, but it might not do the Cardinals a lot of good. A slow pace isn’t Alexandria’s game. This team is at its best when its getting up and down the court. With that said, here are three things I think Alexandria has to do to give itself a chance at beating the second-ranked Otters.
1. Create turnovers: This is always Alexandria’s bread and butter. The Cardinals created 29 turnovers against Thief River Falls last Saturday, which helped them blow the game open in the second half.
In talking to head coach Wendy Kohler, I get the sense that she has a few things she’s looking to break out to try and throw Fergus Falls off its game tonight. I asked her what they had to do to slow down such a balanced Otters team after they lost to them in the regular season finale. She wouldn’t expand too much, but Kohler said that they have a few tricks up their sleeve if they were to meet Fergus Falls in the championship.
It will be interesting to see what she has in mind on defense. The Cardinals pressure caused the Otters some problems in the first half the last time these two teams met. They trailed by just one at the break before missed free throws ended up hurting their chances of staying close in the second half.
There’s no question that Fergus Falls has the guards to handle pressure. Whether or not Alexandria can fluster them enough to create some takeaways and some easy scoring chances on the break could play a big part in how this game turns out.
2. Deliver the first punch: I don’t think there’s any question that a fast start would do wonders for Alexandria.
The Otters have been in this situation before. They beat Alexandria twice during the regular season last year before the Cardinals punched their ticket to state with a 46-40 win in the 8AAA title game. I don’t foresee Fergus Falls coming into this game thinking its going to roll over Alexandria.
It will be up to the Cardinals to plant some doubt in their minds. The times I’ve seen Fergus Falls in person this year, the Otters have played with a confidence and a swagger that all good teams have.
That likely comes from having three great seniors in Haylie Zenner, Sydney Schultz and Mariah Monke to rely heavily on. The Otters have to know how important it is to get the job done this season. If Alexandria can jump on them early, who knows how they will respond to some early pressure?
3. Have fun with this moment: It sounds cliche but it’s important that the Cardinals take the court with this attitude. Alexandria can’t play scared if its going to get the win tonight, and from talking to players and coaches after their win over Thief River Falls, I don’t think they will.
“This is life at its best for a 16-17-year-old girl,” Kohler said. “It’s just been great to see these girls come together as a team. Taking it one game at a time has been our theme, and we are really excited that we positioned ourselves as a unit to be able to have another chance to play Fergus.”
Her players echoed that sentiment. Whitney Gesell broke into a huge smile when I asked her how excited this team is to get a third shot at the Otters. Lauren Trumm did the same.
“We’re pumped up,” Trumm said. “We’re ready to go. We’ll have a great week of practice, and we’ll go out and give it our all.”
That is the perfect mindset to take into this game. It’s the playoffs. Anything can happen and both teams know that heading into tonight. It should be fun when the two teams tip off at 7 p.m. at the University of Minnesota-Moorhead.