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Everything old is new again for Fulda

FULDA -- Qualifying for the state girls basketball tournament is nothing new to the Fulda Raiders. But being gone from the event since advancing in 2003 has made this trip more like the first one according to head coach Gregg Slaathaug. "It feels...

FULDA -- Qualifying for the state girls basketball tournament is nothing new to the Fulda Raiders.

But being gone from the event since advancing in 2003 has made this trip more like the first one according to head coach Gregg Slaathaug.

"It feels really different and really special, especially with the fact we lost that game last year in three overtimes," he said.

The game which Slaathaug is referring to is the Section 3A title game at Marshall in 2005, where the Raiders were knocked out in a triple-overtime classic, 68-65, against the Minneota Vikings. The loss, and its aftertaste, have been the fuel for the Raiders ever since that night at Southwest Minnesota State University, driving the team through summer workouts which would start at 6 a.m.

An early start for some, but not for the Raiders, who had full team participation in the summer workouts.

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"After awhile, you get used to it," said Laura Kramer. "You wake up and you go."

And the Raiders have certainly done that this year, running out to a 23-4 record, including 19 victories in their last 20 games.

It's a success rate which has not been lost on Don Nelson, head coach of Fosston, the Raiders' state Class A quarterfinal opponent Thursday at 11 a.m., inside Williams Arena.

"For them to come out (of Section 3A), they have to be playing excellent basketball," he said.

Fulda has played solid team basketball, boxing out strong while attacking with a balanced offense which doesn't put pressure on one or two players to carry a bulk of the load.

Having a solid bench helps achieve that balance, and it's been a source for this team since the beginning of the year, when Sarah Raddle was out of action due to injury. Her inactivity ultimately helped find the subs needed when starters are either needing a rest, unable to get their offense going, or out of the game due to fouls.

Fulda reached the state tournament with a 54-39 victory against Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in the Section 3A title game Friday in Marshall. What made the matchup even more interesting was the two teams had played earlier in the season -- at SMSU, no less -- and R-T-R came away with the 64-58 victory.

However, going into that game, there was nothing but confidence in the minds of the Raiders.

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"They only knocked us off by (six) points that first time," Slaathaug said. "We had one of our worst games of the season."

In the rematch, the Raiders brought their "A" game, especially on defense. After being knotted up at 26-all, Fulda turned up the defensive pressure, outscoring the Knights 28-13 run over the last 12:03 of the game, earning the state tournament berth.

Over the course of their run to the state tournament, the Raiders have also had to deal with personal tragedy with the auto accident which took student Stacy Gunderman on Feb. 25.

While the team and city have grieved, basketball has become a release for the team, according to Nicole Gunderman. When the team has been on court, it has been able to push aside what happened, and focus solely on the game.

It also helped strengthen the bond this team had already established.

"There's a real family atmosphere on this team that was (here) before the accident," Slaathaug said. "It's gotten even stronger afterward."

As for the game Thursday, Fulda will have to control the duo of Kelly Landsberk and Carin Sunbom. Both seniors drive a team which started the season 1-5 after finishing as state runner-up just one year ago.

Landsberk is the driving force, though, scoring 19 points per game. If last year's All-Tournament selection is able to find her shot, Fulda could have serious problems.

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But above all, Nelson cited rebounding -- Fulda's strength -- as the key to the contest.

"IF we can keep the rebounding edge close with them, it will definitely run to our advantage," he said.

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