It’s déjà vu all over again.

The Class 4A reigning champion Columbus North girls basketball team heads back to Bankers Life Fieldhouse tonight for an encore, with fans by the thousands in tow.

The Bull Dogs (27-1) won the school’s first girls basketball state championship last year against Homestead. A win against Penn (27-2) would give the school its first back-to-back girls state basketball titles.

Excitement has been building all week in preparation for tonight’s game, expected to start about 8:15 p.m.

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Sendoff: Part I began Thursday night during halftime of the North boys game against Center Grove.

It included introductions of all players on the North girls team, a video recapping the season through the semistate game, T-shirt sales, autographed team photos and a final chance for Bull Dogs fans to purchase tickets to sit in the Columbus North fan section. The athletics department sold 1,542 North section tickets by Thursday night.

Troy Williams, father of North player Elle Williams, bought 30 of those tickets — enough for every member of his extended family and others he may invite.

His advice for fans is to get to Bankers Life Fieldhouse early. Doors open at 5 p.m.

“Spend the day. Check out the building. Absorb all that basketball history,” said Williams, speaking from experience after his family’s first trip to the state finals last year.

Showing suppor

t on the roadPlayers’ parents also plan to get started early today in showing support for the Bull Dogs in Sendoff: Part II.Fans will gather at North at 3:35 p.m. near the gym entrance, school officials said. Those attending are encouraged to don school colors as this game’s theme is Bull Dog Blue.The girls’ team bus departs at 4:45 p.m., but many parents and fans plan to congregate much earlier to get a head start on the cheering, said Jenny Kim, mother of senior player Emily Kim.

Any inch of the bus not already decorated by the Columbus North High School cheerleaders will be covered with paint and signs provided by parents, Kim said.

As they did last year, parents also have prepared giant wall graphics of players to hold up along the roadside as the team bus passes.

Parents and fans also are planning on decorating their own cars as part of the caravan that will leave the school heading to Indianapolis.

The Columbus Police Department will lead the team bus from the high school to Interstate 65, said Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus police spokesman. Then, squad cars from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department will escort the bus from the Marion County line to Bankers Life Fieldhouse, said Jeff Hester, Columbus North athletics director.

Win or lose in the championship game, the team will be honored again at the Columbus North gym after the game in Indy, with fans and team members gathering at North after the team buses arrive home late tonight.

In the spirit at North

The North cheerleaders have been hard at work all week, covering the high school with blue and white streamers and crepe paper.Every pane of glass in the cafeteria was filled with messages of school spirit, said Sarah Frasier, cheerleading coach.

“It’s our job to get the fans excited,” Frasier said.

The players aren’t the only ones returning to the big stage, however, she said.

Four seniors on the current cheerleading squad also are making their second and final trip to the state finals.

The sounds of victory

The Sound of North pep band will partner with the cheerleaders at tonight’s game, as they have all season, Frasier said.Look for an 8-minute riff between the cheerleaders and the band with the familiar “William Tell Overture,” Frasier said.Not all pep band members will be performing tonight, however, as Indiana High School Athletics Association rules limit the bands to 40 members at the game.

So about half of the Sound of North band will be following the game from home or cheering in the crowd, said Keith Burton, North pep band director.

“The freshman will just have to wait for another opportunity,” he said.

For some of those performing at the game, it will be a busy day, Burton said.

Several student musicians will be competing for their own state titles earlier in the day at the Indiana State School Music Association Solo and Ensemble competitions in Indianapolis.

This means a sudden switch from the dulcet tones of Bach and Chopin to hard-driving jazz and pop music, Burton said.

The band and the cheer squad will be in their own separate buses, joining the caravan of parents and fans escorting the girls basketball team to and from the stadium, Frasier said.

Bridge shows city’s tru

e colorsCommunity spirit hasn’t been limited to the high school. The city of Columbus joined in on the pre-game hoopla itself.Lights on the Robert N. Stewart Bridge were turned to blue early this week to celebrate the North girls basketball team’s return to today’s championship game.The lights were returned to white Thursday night, but will be switched back to blue and stay that way for several days if the Bull Dogs win, said Mary Ferdon, executive director of administration and community development for the city.

Heading North

What: IHSAA Class 4A girls basketball state championship game

Who: Columbus North Bull Dogs (27-1) vs Penn Kingsman from Mishawaka (27-2)

When: 8:15 p.m. today

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

How much: Tickets can be purchased at the door for $15.

Directions and parking: bankerslifefieldhouse.com

Gates open: At 5 p.m. for the second session, including the Columbus North game. Class A and 2A games take place during a separate morning session starting at 9 a.m. Separate ticket is required for each session.

Team send-off: 3:45 p.m. at Columbus North High School, 1400 25th St., near the gym. Team bus departs at 4:45 p.m. with Columbus Police escort.

About the teams

Columbus North High School Bull Dogs

Coach: Pat McKee

School Colors: Royal blue and white

Record: 27-1 in the regular season

State final History: Champion in 2015, runner-up in 2013

Penn High School Kingsman

Coach: Kristi Kaniewski Ulrich

School Colors: Gold, black and white

Record: 27-2 in the regular season

State final History: Runner-up 2010 and 2013

Follow the rules

The Indiana High School Athletic Association has some guidelines that it asks school principals to enforce for state championship games.

Among those are:

  • No publications, brochures, fliers, etc. of any kind, whether for sale or free-of-charge, are to be distributed at IHSAA tournament events without prior approval from the IHSAA.
  • Balloons, banners and/or posters, etc. are not permitted.
  • Cowbells and other such noise devices, banners, shakers on sticks, signs, posters, etc., are not permitted.
  • No live animal mascots are permitted.
  • Line-up lanes of fans shall not be permitted on the playing floor at any time.
  • Audio/video devices are not permitted on the playing floor.
  • The throwing of articles, including toilet tissue, is not allowed.

Spectators also are required to be fully clothed during the event and body paint does not count as clothing — no shirt, no game.

Watching at home

North’s championship game will air live on Fox Sports Indiana, according to the IHSAA. Channels vary by service provider.

Follow the coverage

Viewers who are outside the Fox Sports Indiana coverage area can watch a live stream at IHSAAtv.org. For those who have the FS1 coverage, the stream is available only on a delayed basis after the television broadcast concludes.

Before, during and after the game, we will be publishing on all our digital platforms, keeping you up to date with photos, scores and tidbits about the atmosphere in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Engage with The Republic on its website, therepublic.com, or on social media:

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