Reporting Mike Max
UPSALA, Minn. (WCCO) – They did something that had not been done before in the school’s history – made the state tournament. It ended early for Upsala High School’s girls basketball team, but they showed how high school sports can energize an entire community.
Fans dyed their hair red and some wore rainbow wigs in honor of the Cardinals, who had never had a girls team make it to Williams Arena. And number 25 was the focal point. Upsala junior Kailen Smieja tied a state tournament record, hitting seven 3-pointers.
“It felt good coming off the hand and everything,” Smieja said. “It was awesome.”
She represented a part of a special group, according to coach Paul Pelzer.
“This group of girls is a coach’s dream. They’re just so amazing,” Pelzer said. “They all get along, I mean as a group, which is really amazing.”
In a venue like Williams Arena you can feel that support. As the clock ticked down on a season and Bethlehem Academy took over the game, the fans were there – honoring their athletes.
“I love ‘em all. I’m glad they made the trip to come down here,” Smieja said. “It made a big impact on how we played, I think. And it’s just awesome listening to them cheer for you out there.”
This was one unforgettable season for the Cardinals and entire Upsala community.
“It’s just a great experience for everyone,” Pelzer said. “The community was so wrapped up in this, as you can see by the crowd. It’s just been amazing.”
Upsala lost Thursday in their first-round game against Bethlehem Academy. The boys – also in their first state tournament appearance – beat Barnum Friday night in the section finals.