DES MOINES - Reaching the state tournament has become a nearly annual occurrence for the Newell-Fonda girls basketball program.
This time around, the Mustangs are determined to finally bring home a title.
Making their 10th trip to Des Moines in school history, top-ranked Newell-Fonda (22-2 overall) will battle Bedford (17-7) in a Class 1A quarterfinal Monday at 11:45 a.m. inside Wells Fargo Arena.
"We're just very excited and looking forward to the opportunity," said N-F head coach Dick Jungers, who holds a career record of 249-52 in 12 years at the helm. "It's very hard and challenging just to get to state, and we're one of only eight teams still alive. Our girls have been down (to state) before and know what it takes."
Senior all-stater Renee Maneman (15.8) and classmates Claudia Larsen (12.5) and Taiyler Schrank (7.7) are the main offensive weapons for the defending state runner-up Mustangs, who boast the second highest scoring attack in 1A at 65.9 points per game. Rounding out the starting five are junior Brianna Wells (7.3) and senior Jade Hess (1.8).
Maneman, a Northwestern College signee, anchors the team in several major statistical categories, including total points (363), made field goals (145), assists (122) and steals (104). Larsen, another Northwestern College recruit, paces Newell-Fonda in total rebounds (201), blocks (58) and made free throws (85).
"Our biggest strength is our number of different kids that can step up from night to night in terms of scoring," said Jungers. "From a defensive aspect, we absolutely get after it, too."
On the defensive end, the relentless Mustangs surrender only 39.6 points a night. Twin Lakes Conference champion Newell-Fonda, which went a perfect 9-0 in league play this season, has held six opponents to 28 points or less. As a collective unit, the Mustangs are second in 1A in both made field goals (615) and made three-pointers (126). On 21 occasions, Newell-Fonda has prevailed by double figures.
Hinton and Pocahontas Area, who are ranked third and 13th, respectively, in the final IGHSAU 2A poll of the season, handed the Mustangs their only setbacks this year. During its current postseason run, Newell-Fonda, easily ousted Marcus-Meriden-Cleghorn (79-36), Graettinger-Terril/Ruthven-Ayrshire (74-28) and George-Little Rock (72-53).
Sophomore Fallyn Beemer (15.2), senior Madison Walston (11.3) and sophomore Emily Weed (8.3) are the catalysts for the Bulldogs, who are making their fourth-ever trip to Des Moines - all coming since 2007. Beemer actually ranks third among all 1A players in made triples (64) and first in the state in attempted 3-pointers (236). The Bulldogs shoot just 31.9 percent from the field, including 24.5 percent behind the arc.
En route to state, Bedford eliminated South Page (55-31), Lamoni (57-33), No. 9 Murray (59-54) and fifth-ranked Stanton (56-51) after dropping five of their previous eight games before regionals.
"Bedford has been (to Wells Fargo Arena) just like us, so they're not going to be surprised by the atmosphere or size of the court, either," Jungers said. "(The Bulldogs) are a very quick and fundamentally sound team that just does a lot of the little things well. It'll come down to what team is more physically and mentally ready to go."
Throughout this season, loyal fan support has once again provided Newell-Fonda with an extra boost.
"It was really nice on Monday when the road conditions weren't ideal, and we still had just a tremendous following (at the regional final in Cherokee)," said Jungers. "Our fans have really helped us get through some tough spots by being loud and vocal. I can't say enough about our community support."
Maneman, Larsen, Schrank and Wells also started for the Mustangs a year ago. Newell-Fonda settled for runner-up honors as well in 1997, 2000 and 2008.
On the softball diamond, Jungers has directed Newell-Fonda to state seven times since 2005, including a 1A crown in '08 and second-place efforts in '06, '09 and '10.
Fort Dodge Senior High graduate Courtney Vaughn serves as an assistant coach for the Mustangs.
Monday's winner advances to face either fourth-ranked Colo-Nesco (23-1) or No. 6 Lynnville-Sully (21-3) in a 1A semifinal here Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.