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It's finally the girls' turn in Red Lake to have a send-off for first-ever state basketball tourney

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Red Lake senior Samantha Roy fist bumps Cassius Cook, 4, as he passes through the line with other basketball fans on Wednesday during a send-off for the Red Lake Girls basketball team at Red Lake High School. Jillian Gandsey / Forum News Service2 / 3
The Red Lake girls basketball team lines up during a send-off from Red Lake High School on Wednesday morning. The team will play in the state tournament for the first time in program history. Jillian Gandsey / Forum News Service3 / 3

RED LAKE, Minn.—The last person in Red Lake should turn off the lights since everyone will be inside Mariucci Arena come 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

That's where the Red Lake High School girls basketball team will make its first state tournament appearance in program history against Cromwell-Wright.

School has been cancelled Thursday and Friday in this northern Minnesota community as the unseeded Warriors prepare to take on the No. 3-seeded Cardinals in the Class A state quarterfinals on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Red Lake is used to the success of its boys basketball team, which has qualified for state each of the past three seasons and has a shot to make it four-straight years with a win Friday.

But now the girls have a chance to make their own history after claiming their first Section 8A title last Friday with a 67-52 victory over East Grand Forks Sacred Heart.

"It's been very crazy. Everything has been not normal but not normal sometimes is a good thing," head coach Randy Holthusen said with a laugh.

"It's been a dream come true," said Grace White, Red Lake's record-breaking senior guard who has recorded more than 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds to establish new program marks.

"It's been a million emotions at once. I don't think it has really set in yet that we're going to state but it's about to as we go for this escort."

The Warriors were given a police escort out of town following a send off held for the team before the 250-mile trip. Sirens wailed and horns were honked as the bus was saluted by fans, students and faculty who watched the Warriors set off for Minneapolis.

For sophomore forward Angel McClain, she has experienced the state tournament through her older brother, Rob, a senior on the boys team.

"My brother, he worked with me all summer so he knew we were gonna go to state and he kept me determined on going," she said.

Members of the White family are no strangers to the state tournament. Grace's father, Roger White, is the head coach of the boys basketball team. Now it's time for her moment at state.

"It's always been a goal to get there and we've never been able to get there," Grace White said, "and I'm glad we're able to go my senior year and I get to be a part of it."

Like many Red Lake fans, Roger White will make the trek to the Twin Cities for today's girls quarterfinal before heading back north to rejoin his boys team for their section title game in Thief River Falls on Friday night.

"I'm definitely going down for (Thursday's) game since we don't play until 7 on Friday but I'll definitely be able to see the first game there," White said, "and depending on how they do, I think I'll have to miss the second game in order to come back to coach."

The Lady Warriors will be guaranteed at least two games at state. Even if they lose in Thursday's quarterfinals, they will have to opportunity to play in the consolation bracket Friday.

Many miles will be logged on the cars of Warriors supporters this week but nothing has ever deterred the Red Lake faithful.

"They'll go (through) blizzards, anywhere to watch our girls and boys," Roger White said. "It's been great, fantastic. The crowd has always been great and I really appreciate it as a coach to see the support we have from the community."

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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