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Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

Class D-2, Exeter-Milligan vs. Red Cloud, 3/1/18

Red Cloud players are introduced before they take on Exeter-Milligan in the first round of the Class D-2 state girls basketball tournament Thursday at Lincoln Southwest High School. Last year there were only six girls on the Red Cloud team; the number almost doubled this year.

They look a little different this year, but this was the same Red Cloud girls basketball team that captured fans' attention during the state tournament last season as the six-player team that made it all the way to Lincoln.

Then they made it back again, with fewer open seats on the bus and a lot more celebrating on the bench. This year, Red Cloud has 11 players on the roster, although one never got to play due to injury.

When Red Cloud made it to state last year, it was the first time the school had been here in 12 years. When the Warriors qualified for state again this year by winning their district game against Axtell, it was the first time Red Cloud had ever made it to state in back-to-back years.

On Thursday evening, Red Cloud staged a big rally in the second half but lost 52-45 against Exeter-Milligan in the first round of the Class D-2 tournament at Lincoln Southwest. Still, Red Cloud has back-to-back seasons with at least 19 wins.

One of the six players last year was a senior. Red Cloud coach Casey Fangmeyer thought they’d get eight or nine out for the sport this year, and they ended up with 11. And no, it wasn’t because a family with three daughters moved to town.

“A little bit of the success last year I’m sure has to do with it,” Fangmeyer said. “I think some of them that didn’t go out last year probably realized, ‘Gosh, this could be a pretty good high school experience for me,’ and decided let’s go give it a try, and I’m thankful that they did, and I hope they continue to do it.”

Junior Hannah Vance and sophomore Michaela Chiplaski each joined the team after not doing so last year. And there were four freshmen. Kassidy Uhrich was the best of them, scoring 76 points during the season. But the majority of the scoring came from the returning players, including leading scorer Mary Nibbe, who is a junior.

All the players got to appear in at least a few varsity games, but in a big game like Thursday, the Warriors played only seven.

It’s still nice for Fangmeyer to look at the bench during a game and have people there, and practices are better, too.

“You actually get to go a little 5-on-5. You can do that,” said Fangmeyer of practice. “Its creates a little bit more competition, and that’s something that our girls really need is some competition in practice to make each other better, instead of just knowing I got it sewed up with what I have. I’m happy about it. I hope I get to see more and more girls come out.”

Red Cloud even got to play some JV games this year, after not doing so last season. But there were only five players available for JV games.

And the numbers are looking good in the younger grades, including one grade with 17 girls and only three boys.

But that Red Cloud team in 2017 that got to state with six players will always be a source of pride, and a way to connect the community with the rest of the state.

“You go somewhere and you say you’re from Red Cloud and a lot of people say, ‘Oh, yeah, you guys had the six-player girls basketball team,” Fangmeyer said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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