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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

Mike Max