DES MOINES - It's easy - almost natural - for Newell-Fonda fans to look back after Friday's championship loss and think about what could have been, or look forward and start to wonder what might be.
Mustang girls basketball coach Dick Jungers just wants to appreciate the present for a while.
Jungers did his best to keep a proper perspective on his squad's second-place finish, which ended with a crushing one-point loss to top-ranked Central Lyon in the Class 1A finals inside Wells Fargo Arena. It was Newell-Fonda's second runner-up effort on the hardwood during Jungers' time at the helm, and the program's fourth title trip without a victory since 1997.
''I couldn't have more respect for this group of kids. Win or lose (on Friday), that wasn't going to change,'' said Jungers, who has coached in five championship games between basketball and softball since 2008. ''I have a special place in my heart for this team, because my stepdaughter, Taiyler Schrank, is (a junior starter). So even though I'm close with all of the kids who come through our program, I go way back with this group.
''This is a tough and bittersweet way for it to end - being so close again - but in retrospect, our community should be very proud. Our players will be able to come back someday and show their kids and grandkids this trophy. It always hurts so much right after the game, but as we get some distance and have our welcome back ceremony (Sunday), I think what we accomplished will start to sink in and the big picture will become clearer.''
Jungers has ''been blessed'' by a school district that ''strives for excellence in everything we do, whether it be in athletics or the classroom.''
''It's a collective effort, definitely,'' Jungers said. ''We all want so badly to win that first (girls basketball) title; we're definitely on the same page there. But in the meantime, the hard work and commitment the players and parents have shown through the years is incredibly admirable. I'm just fortunate to be their coach.
''We're disappointed, and I don't ever want to feel like I let any of them down. I do believe we'll get there and win (the championship) eventually. I believe we're at an elite level now, but when you get to the finals, two great teams meet and unfortunately someone has to lose. I know we're doing things the right way here, though, and I wouldn't trade our community for anything.''
Newell-Fonda is slated to return 84 percent of its scoring next season. The Mustangs' senior class is small, with starter Andrea Christensen and reserves Taylor Lago and Haley Voss set to graduate.
Was Friday's loss a part of the learning process, which will lead to bigger and better things next year? Perhaps. But Jungers isn't ready to make any predictions - or move on just yet.
''You realize how hard the tournament trail is, and the kind of ability and fortune it takes to get this far,'' Jungers said. ''We'll have a very good core coming back, and a lot of good young players who will vie for playing time in the future.
''With that being said, you never know when the next opportunity will come and you can't assume anything along the way. It's not easy to win a championship, and not easy to even get the chance to play for a championship.
''That's why I want to appreciate the here and now. It was a gut-wrenching moment, yet very heart-moving at the same time to be in that environment and surrounded by our incredible fanbase at the biggest stage. I want to take some time to reflect on that and what our (2012-13) players managed to accomplish, which was phenomenal.''
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons or evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org