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MIAC Profiles of Excellence: Alex Hildebrandt, Augsburg College

floated rightby Rich Mies, CSN Mapping the MIAC Columnist

For a quarter century, Augsburg College men’s soccer program was the “Bad News Bears” of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. After dominating the conference in the 1970s, they sank and spent the next 25 years mired at or near the bottom of the standings. While many factors and people deserve credit for the turnaround at Augsburg in the last three years, Alex Hildebrandt has been the face of the new, improved Auggie program, both on the pitch and off it.

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floated left“Our program rolls as Alex rolls - and since he has been here, it’s been in a positive direction,” stated Coach Greg Holker, whose hiring coincides with the rise of the Auggies. “He is our leader, our steadiest player, one of our best students, and brother to all of the guys.”

In Alex’s first year, the Auggies earned their first MIAC playoff berth. Last fall, they not only made the field of the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time in school history but also advanced to the Sweet 16. Alex has earned All-Conference, All-Region and All-American honors for his play.

Alex’s impact on the program extends beyond the playing field. He is a leader in every sense of the word, one that his teammates look up to and respect. He also excels in the classroom, garnering All-Conference, All-District and All-American academic honors.

He also finds time to be active in Augsburg’s Student Athletic Advisory Committee for three years. With SAAC, Alex has been involved in the group’s annual Toys For Teens drive at the holidays, as well as promoting support of Auggie athletics on campus and encouraging attendance at home games and matches. “We also help relay information between the administration and athletes,” he said. “We hold an annual softball tourney each spring that is open to all Augsburg students and are involved in the annual Auggie Awards, which recognize the top student-athletes here.” Alex has been involved in an Augsburg program that has conducted a soccer program at a nearby elementary school each of his four years.

“He defines what our program stands for,” Holker said. “Not only does he excel on the field and in the classroom, but he reaches out and involves himself in other people’s lives. Each day, he works as hard as he can to improve his life and the lives of those he [meets]. He will not work at 80% - he understands that fulfillment comes through giving the absolute best effort he can - every moment of every day “

Alex grew up in St. Paul’s Como neighborhood, along with his older brother, Greg. He got involved in the neighborhood youth soccer program at an early age and by the time he was nine, he joined the St. Paul Blackhawks, one of the better club programs in St. Paul. “I played for them until I turned 15,” Alex said. “Then I joined the Plymouth Wings, one of the premier teams in the Twin Cities. We won the state championships in my U-17 and U-18 years, but lost in group play at regionals.” One of the highlights of Alex’s club soccer years was a trip to England with the Wings in the summer after his sophomore year of high school.

He attended Adams Elementary School, a Spanish immersion magnet school. From there, he attended Highland Park High, where he played soccer and basketball.

In the spring of his freshman year, Alex ran track, but there were too many conflicts with his club soccer so the next two years he played tennis.

“Tennis practiced right after school, so it didn’t conflict with club soccer,” he said. Alex played No. 2 and No. 3 doubles. “In my junior year, my partner and I made it to State but lost right away,” he recalled. His senior year, Alex decided to try his hand on the golf team. “I thought it would be a fun thing to do,” he said.

During the winters, Alex played basketball for the Scots. He was on the JV his freshman and sophomore years, but joined the varsity at the end of his sophomore year. He started at shooting guard his senior year, and received All-Conference Honorable Mention. Both seasons, the Scots lost in the early rounds of Section play. “I didn’t play basketball my junior year as I needed to work to earn money to pay for the trip to England with my club soccer team,” said Alex.

floated rightIn soccer, Alex started on varsity all four years for Highland Park. He played outside midfielder his freshman and sophomore years and defense the next two years. He earned All-Conference honors his sophomore, junior and senior years. Alex was All-State Honorable Mention his junior year and was named to the All-State team as a senior. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press both named him to their All-Metro Area Team his senior year and the Pioneer Press honored him as Metro Player of the Year. Following his senior season, Alex played in the annual All-Star game.

In Alex’s first two seasons on the varsity, the Scots finished around .500 and lost in the opening round of Section play to Cretin-Derham Hall. They improved to second in their conference his junior year, but lost in the second round of the Section. In Alex’s senior year, Highland Park went 17-2, losing to perennial power Minneapolis South in the Section final.

He was recruited by many of the Division II and III schools in the area, but looked mostly at schools in the MIAC because of the conference’s academic reputation. He narrowed his search to Augsburg, Gustavus and Saint John’s. Several factors led to his choosing Augsburg. “I liked the fact that it was in the city, and it seemed like a good idea to spend some time in Minneapolis,” he said. “I felt that I’d be able to play right away as a freshman, and could contribute right away. Coach Holker was a big factor, too. I was impressed with his enthusiasm and his desire to restore Augsburg soccer to what it used to be.”

As a freshman, Alex started 18 of the Auggies’ 19 games as they finished 5-2-3 in conference play and 13-3-3 overall. Their third place finish was their best finish since 1980, when they last won the MIAC title. They qualified for the MIAC Playoffs for the first time, but lost 1-0 to Gustavus in the semifinals. Alex, who finished third in the league in assists, was named All-MIAC Honorable Mention. For the full season, Alex scored three goals and had three assists.

The following year, Alex and the Auggies experienced a slight slump, slipping to seventh in the league with a 5-5-0 record. Overall, they were 10-8-0. Alex notched three goals on the year. That season, Alex earned Academic All-District honors.

floated leftLast fall was a breakout season for Alex and a landmark year for Augsburg. They posted a 7-2-1 record in league play, finishing third. The MIAC coaches voted Alex on the All-MIAC First Team, as he ranked among the league leaders in points, goals and assists. In the MIAC Playoffs, Augsburg defeated Gustavus 3-0 and battled Carleton to a 0-0 tie in the title game, losing on a shootout.

The Auggies were awarded an at-large berth in the NCAA playoffs. They tied Whitworth 1-1 in the opening round, advancing on a shootout. They downed Redlands 1-0 before losing to Loras 2-1 in two overtimes in the Sweet 16. They closed the season 12-4-7. Alex was named to the All-West Region First Team

Following the season, Alex was named Academic All-MIAC. He was further honored by the National Soccer Coaches Association of American, which named him to their Scholar All-Region and Division III Scholar All-American First Team. In addition, ESPN The Magazine and CoSIDA named Alex to their Academic All-District Team and Third Team Academic All-American.

Thus far this season, the Auggies are ranked 15th in the nation. They are 5-3-1 overall and 1-2-0 in MIAC play. Alex has notched a pair of goals

The summer after Alex’s freshman year, the Auggies traveled to Argentina for an 11-day training and competition trip. It was the first international trip in Augsburg soccer history. The team stayed at the CEFAR Academy (Centro Entrenamiento Futbol Alto Rendimiento/Center for High Performance Football Training), a private training facility, and played games against local club competition. Because of his experience at Adams Elementary, Alex proved to be a valuable asset to the team off the pitch as well. He became a key conduit between the team and the staff at CEFAR.

Alex is majoring in Finance and Accounting, with a minor in Mathematics. He sports a 3.83 GPA. Because of the double major and the increased number of class hours required to sit for the CPA exam, Alex will graduate in December 2010. After graduation, he hopes to find an internship in finance, preferably in the Twin Cities area. He most likely will take the CPA exam and may go on to graduate school in the future.

He spent the spring semester of his junior year studying in Central America. “It was a program called Sustainable Development and Social Change,” he explained. “We split time between Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.”

Augsburg has been good to Alex. “I have received a good education,” he said. “The professors here care about me as a person and as a student. Through soccer, I have built some great friendships and relationships. We have accomplished a lot on the field, too. Being at Augsburg is comforting to me. The people around me make me feel like I belong. No one is fake.”

Coach Holker knows he has been fortunate to have a player of Alex’s talent on the team these four seasons. He also knows he has been privileged to have a person of Alex’s character wear the maroon and gray. “He makes other people better through his compassion, wisdom, and friendly demeanor,” said Holker. “He is confident and secure enough in himself to understand that giving and teaching will bring benefits beyond athletic and academic achievement. He is an ‘All-American’ guy.”

[The portrait photo is courtesy of the Augsburg College Sports Information Office and the action photos are by Mark Macemon for Augsburg College Sports Information.]

The Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) is widely respected as one of the premier conferences in nearly every sport competed in Division III. Year after year, the MIAC produces teams and individual student-athletes who excel in their given sport. At the same time, the MIAC schools maintain a reputation of commitment to academic excellence. This article is one in a series of spotlights on some of the young men and women who represent the league’s commitment to excellence, both in the classroom and athletics during the 2008-09 academic year.

This feature will be included in the “Profiles of Excellence 2009-2010″ book which will be available for order at RDM Publishing. It will feature profiles of student-athletes from the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, written by CSN’s “Mapping the MIAC” columnist Rich Mies.