Red Cloud at State, a three year process
The Red Cloud Lady Crusaders are at the state ‘A’ girls basketball tournament this week. For some schools, state tournament appearances can feel like business as usual, but for Red Cloud the last two years, it’s felt more like a fantasy world.
Back in 2020, the Lady Crusaders qualified for the state ‘A’ tournament, but like all tournaments that year, it was canceled because of the initial surge with the pandemic. Last year, the state tournaments in South Dakota went off without a hitch, for the most part, but for Red Cloud and other Native schools on the Pine Ridge Reservation, high school sports were shut down, again because of COVID, from competing during the school year.
“It was a really emotional year last year. We’re the only team, of all the teams who made state, who didn’t play last year,” Red Cloud head girls basketball coach Matt Rama explained. “Half of our girls transferred away, because they could, they allowed that for reservation schools, and half the girls didn’t have a season at all. They just stayed home and missed a season.”
To make state and not get to play is one thing, especially when every other team is in the same boat, but to then have a team split up for a season with the expectation of bringing it all back together again the following year – that’s a whole different level of challenge.
“So you’re talking about seven to eight girls who had no season, six who transferred, and then to come back and build ourselves together and get to the point at the end of the year where we got to the state tournament,” Rama stated. “It was just such a rewarding feeling for the kids after having such a tough time last year.”
Red Cloud finished the 2021-22 season with a 20-2 regular-season record. They beat Little Wound and Todd County in post-season regional play and then defeated Florence/Henry in the SoDak 16 50-44 to punch their ticket to the state tournament.
Now that the Lady Crusaders are finally here, it’s about making the most of the opportunity.
“This has been the goal since they were little. There’s five [players] who played since they were freshmen, so they helped build the program up. They were the first team that made it to state in 2020. I can’t speak to them, but I have to think it’s very rewarding,” Rama exclaimed.
He said walking off the court following Wednesday’s practice session, he had a special message for his team.
“Take a second, enjoy this moment. We’re here, we made it to state. Tomorrow we’ll come play and there will be a game, but for now we can just smile and enjoy being here,” said Rama.
Red Cloud is the No. 8 seeded team at this year's 'A' girls state tournament. They'll play top-seeded Wagner at 12 pm CT from Frost Arena in Brookings on Thursday. It will air live on SDPB1-TV.