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Pressure defense has powered Red Lake's late-season win streak; return to state

MINNEAPOLIS - In 1997 the Red Lake boys basketball team ignited a run that saw the Warriors advance to the state tournament five times in a seven-year span. Among the players on the 1997 squad was Delwyn Holthusen, a tall center who dominated the paint both offensively and defensively.

Holthusen still lives in the Red Lake community and he often runs into his nephew Ryan Holthusen who is a senior guard on this year's team.

At 3 p.m. today Ryan and his teammates will take on Maranatha Christian in the quarterfinals of the state Class A tournament at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus and the senior has been all ears when his uncle offered advice on what to expect in the Twin Cities.

"My uncle has been talking to me all the time," Ryan said. "He told me that playing in the state tournament in front of the big crowd is going to be an adrenaline rush, especially in the first five minutes. He said the best thing to do is to relax and have fun."

The Warriors, fresh off Friday's 70-67 victory over Northern Freeze in the Section 8A championship game, will take a 23-7 record into today's contest. Maranatha (25-3) slipped past Minneapolis North 67-65 in the Section 5A title game and was given the second seed in the Class A state field.

Today's upper-bracket quarterfinal games at Williams Arena find No. 1 rated Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (28-1) meeting unranked Park Christian (22-9) at 11 a.m. and fourth-seeded Canby (25-4) squaring off against No. 5 Fond du Lac (23-3) at 1 p.m.

Following the Red Lake-Maranatha game, No. 3 Rushford-Peterson (29-1) will tangle with unranked Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (21-7) at 5 p.m.

Today's winners will advance to the Class A semifinals which will be played at noon and 2 p.m. Friday at Target Center. Today's losers will be eliminated.

The championship game is scheduled for noon Saturday at the Target Center and the third-place contest will be played at 10 a.m. Saturday at Concordia-St. Paul.

Red Lake is not ranked among the top five in the state field but Warriors coach Roger White knows that ratings can be deceiving.

"We have nothing to lose at state but we definitely feel that we can play with any team," White said. "We feel that we have been a little underrated. In our section we were seeded second and now we are unseeded (at state). The kids realize how good they can be when they play together and this year the kids really came together.

"The kids had it in them all along but this year has been something special."

Senior guard Trevenn Beaulieu said that the ascent of the Red Lake boys basketball program has been a work in progress but all of that work has paid off.

"We have learned how to play together and how to focus," Beaulieu said. "It took us a while this year to get the chemistry but since we found our roles we have won 19 of 21."

Balance has been a key to Red Lake's offense as Holthusen, Beaulieu, Jeremy Martin and Mason Kingbird all average in double figures and Russell Kingbird contributes 9.5 points per game.

Much of the offense, however, is generated by Red Lake's pressure defense.

"Each one of our players has a role and each night we've had a different player step up defensively, with rebounding, scoring or hitting the big shot," White said.

"We always thought that this team could score but our success really began when we started believing in our defense. There has been a progression throughout the season and now we are playing our best defensive basketball."

Holthusen agrees.

"Our defense is the biggest reason for our success," Holthusen, who averages 22.8 points per game, said. "Our team defense and our team offense have worked for us and our 10-player rotation has been the key. Everybody on this team realizes that when he scores Red Lake scores."

If Red Lake plays its game the Warriors feel they can pull off the upset. And Beaulieu is eager to hit the court.

"It will be important for us to focus on our defense," he said. "I've never been to Williams Arena before and playing at state will be a new experience. I'll be nervous and I'll be excited but if we pressure the ball and play defense, we'll be fine."

"We will have to get the anxiousness and nervousness out of the way in the first few minutes and we will have to play our defense," White added. "It's going to be exciting. Offensively we'll play up-tempo, work for the open shot and take it when it's there. And, of course, we'll have to play well on defense."


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