The Alexandria boys basketball team finished the 2022-23 season near the top of Class 3A as they ended with a
That fourth-place finish culminated a season where the Cardinals won the Section 8-3A title and came in second for the Central Lakers Conference.
The Cardinals aspire to add to that this season but know that the road to get there won’t be easy. They believe winning those titles and contending for a state title is a reachable goal.
“We’re competing for the CLC title and section title, and we’ve talked about realistically having a chance to compete at the state level,” Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. “That’s what you want, a chance to contend and compete at a state level. Certainly, last year, we did some things that show that we’re in that mix, and with what we have back and the pieces that we’ve added that will be in larger roles, we feel like that is attainable.”
“We want to win the conference section, make a deep run in the state tournament, and hopefully win the state title,” Alexandria senior forward Grayson Grove said. “It’ll be a fun season. We’re excited to see what we can do and see how much we’ve grown over the summer.”
Alexandria, who is ranked No. 3 in the Class 3A Minnesota Basketball News Poll, has a big frontcourt advantage with Grove, who stands at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-7 junior forward Chase Thompson.
“Having them with their size and ability is certainly unique for Class 3A and outstate basketball,” Witt said. “They were at the core of what we did last year, and there are certainly high expectations for them this year. And I think the biggest thing is they have high expectations for themselves. They have high goals and want to take our program to another level.”
, averaged 20 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.2 deflections, 2.4 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game last. He shot 57.8 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from the three-point line and was named to the Class 3A All-State Tournament team.
Thompson is currently in the recruiting process for football (as a quarterback) and basketball.
“[For football] I’m hearing from North Dakota State, North Dakota, and some other Midwest schools,” Thompson said. “Just kind of getting done with football. I’m still hearing from some of those coaches. But hopefully, basketball will start off again. I’m continuing my relationship with the schools I hold offers from and the Midwest schools, basically.”
Thompson holds NCAA D1 basketball offers from Bryant, Stetson, and Nebraska. Thompson averaged 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, three assists, 0.9 deflections, 0.9 steals, and 0.4 blocks per game last season.
Alexandria didn’t have the full team practicing until the last week of November, thanks to a large number of players being a part of the football team’s run to the state tournament semifinals.
“Obviously, with the deep run in football, we gave the kids some time off,” Witt said. “We’ve been with our full group except for a few injuries for about a week and a half. We’re getting our basketball legs under us. We’re starting to develop continuity with guys that we’ll think will be in certain places.”
One of those players who played a big role on the football team is senior Bralyn Steffensmeier.
Steffensmeier started at point guard last season and averaged 10.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, four assists, 2.2 deflections, and 2.4 steals per game.
“He’s extremely tough,” Witt said. “He plays bigger than he is. He has the toughness and gamesmanship about him. He was big for us last year and will be big this year as a senior.”
The Cardinals will have to go a couple of games without Steffensmeier, as an injury will appear to keep him out until Christmas.
“He’s still battling an injury that he had during the football season, so I suspect we’ll probably have him somewhere in that vicinity around Christmas time, I suppose,” Witt said. “He’ll be getting his basketball conditioning, getting his legs back, and seeing some time soon.”
But while the Cardinals are likely going to be without Steffensmeier to begin the year, they do have other experienced guards, with senior Dawson Roderick and sophomores Mason and Talan Witt.
Last season, Mason (Forrest’s son) averaged 6.1 points per game and led the team in free throw percentage (81.1). Talan (Forrest’s nephew) averaged 2.2 points per game and led the team in three-point percentage (42.9), just ahead of Mason (41.2). Roderick averaged three deflections and 1.8 steals per game last season while averaging 5.7 points on offense.
“They all had valuable varsity experience last year and had good off-seasons,” Coach Witt said. “We’re excited about what they can bring to our team and the increased roles that they all will play this year, and certainly, they all bring a very good skill set and basketball IQs.”
And with these three appearing to have bigger roles this season, Alexandria is in the process of finding out who the key contributors off the bench might be.
“We feel like we have probably three to four guys that we feel are capable of filling that six, seven, eight, nine roles,” Coach Witt said. “We feel like there are different guys that can step up and certainly give us minutes and in that capacity.”
“We have a lot of guys returning, and they’re looking really good,” Thompson said. “We’ve got some guys that were mixing in like Samson [Hagstrom] and Myles Gray.”
This basketball season will look and feel different from those prior as a 35-second shot clock is now implemented for boys and girls basketball.
“I think it’ll be a good addition,” Coach Witt said about the shot clock. “For us, the way that we play defense, in particular, our zone defense, I think it can be a big advantage for us, and hopefully, we can get teams sped up and have to force them to try to get into things a little earlier. I don’t foresee the shot clock being a big issue for us offensively with how many guys we have that can score. I think it’ll be a good thing for the game and will add a little bit of strategic element at the end of games.”
The Cardinals won’t be easing into things in terms of playing some of the top teams from the get-go.
Alexandria begins the 2023-24 season with a battle on the road against the defending Central Lakes Conference champions, the Brainerd Warriors, on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, at 7:15 p.m.
The tough slate continues with a game at the Breakdown’s Tip-Off Classic at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday at Hopkins High School against Breck, the No. 2 ranked team in Class 2A.
Later on, Alexandria will play against Stewartville and Mankato East at the Breakdown’s Granite City Classic. Stewartville and Mankato East both made the 2023 Class 3A State Tournament.
Alexandria also has Orono, the Class 3A third-place team from a season ago, Benilde-St. Margaret’s, who is currently ranked No. 2 in Class 3A, and Fargo Davies later on in the season.
“We wanted to design our schedule this year nonconference, in particular, to challenge our guys and try to give us the best that Class 3A has to offer,” Coach Witt said.
Alexandria has made it to the four Section 8-3A title games and faced St. Cloud Tech in the last two.
Section 8-3A looks slightly different than last year, with Sauk Rapids-Rice moving to Class 4A and Fergus Falls moving up to fill Sauk Rapids-Rice’s spot.
But regardless of the opponent, the Cardinals expect a fight for the Section 8-3A title.
“I think confidence is an important factor,” Witt said about making another deep run this season. “We’ve discussed that often that the expectations that you have for yourself have to be the most important, and they have to drive how you practice, prepare, and compete against every opponent that you play. I think for us; it’s just going to be about that daily focus of getting a little bit better each time out and not necessarily listening to what other people think about what we are but understanding exactly what we are. We must improve each day and hold ourselves to high expectations.”
“If we come in thinking it’ll be an easy game the other team’s going to roll over, that’s not going to get us to the state tournament,” Coach Witt said. “We have to take it game-by-game.”
Alexandria’s home opener is on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, against Sauk Rapids-Rice at 7:15 p.m.
1/2: Alexandria’s Mason Witt (right) defends Gavin Roderick (14) during a practice on Dec. 5, 2023.
2/2: Alexandria’s Evan Moore looks for a teammate to pass to as Blake Scholl and others defend him during a practice on Dec. 5, 2023 (Grady Starzl in back).