Mustangs roll into finals

DES MOINES – For a second straight game here this week, Newell-Fonda left little doubt why it’s the top-ranked girls basketball team in Class 1A.

Dominating on both ends of the court, the Mustangs (24-2 overall) trounced No. 4 Colo-Nesco in a state semifinal Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Arena, 65-34.

Headed to the title round for a second straight year and fourth time in program history, Newell-Fonda will now face the winner of either second-ranked Janesville (24-1) or No. 3 Burlington Notre Dame (22-3) Friday at 6 p.m. The Mustangs, who are seeking their first-ever state crown on the hardwood, also previously settled for runner-up honors in 1997, 2000, 2008.

“Our kids just came out and hit some big shots to start the game, which kind of set the tone,” said N-F head coach Dick Jungers, who improved to 251-52 in his 12 years at the helm. “We truly are an unselfish team, but we did a good job (Wednesday) of finding the hot hand in Claudia Larsen, who had just an unbelievable performance.”

Larsen, a Northwestern College signee, set a 1A single-game tournament record for the Mustangs with 20 rebounds to go along with 20 points, five blocks, three assists and a steal in 22 minutes of action. Larsen, a 6-foot-1 center, contributed a double-double – 14 points and 13 boards – in the first half alone.

“It doesn’t matter if I scored zero or 20 points, I just love being a part of this team,” Larsen said. “I was very happy that we played great. (Offensively) we found the open girl, and (defensively) we covered up whatever (the Royals) wanted to do.”

Senior all-state point guard Renee Maneman and junior Brianna Wells each netted 10 points for Twin Lakes Conference champion Newell-Fonda, which never trailed after racing out to an early 10-2 lead. Maneman, another Northwestern College recruit, added five boards, four assists and a steal.

Due to the 35-point differential rule, the clock ran continuously for the last 10:46 of the contest.

“We can be a tough team to guard since we have so many options,” said Jungers, whose squad rolled to a 73-37 victory over Bedford in the quarterfinals on Monday. “Our kids have worked hard in practice all season long, and they want to take advantage of the opportunity that has presented itself.”

All 15 Mustangs saw playing time, with nine of those cracking the scoring column. On the defensive end, Newell-Fonda held Colo-Nesco to only 25.6 percent (11-for-43) shooting from the field. The Royals endured a lengthy 4:51 scoreless drought in the first half, while going the first 4:10 of the third quarter without a single point.

“(Last year’s 63-61 championship setback to Central Lyon) has definitely been in the back of my mind,” Larsen said. “We obviously want to come out on the other side this time.”

The Mustangs easily won the battle on the boards, 48-29. Newell-Fonda also held a commanding edge in both second-chance points (20-0) and bench points (22-3).

Caitlyn Riese paced Iowa Star Conference South Division champion Colo-Nesco (24-2) with 17 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two assists. With the loss, the Royals saw their 13-game winning streak halted.

Colo-Nesco, whose other setback was a lopsided 56-22 defeat to Janesville back on Jan. 14, was making its second consecutive state appearance and eighth all-time.