The Dallas Center-Grimes women’s basketball team started this season on a sour note.
It had been months since the Mustangs team – made up of mostly juniors and seniors – played their last game, but it was a game they all remembered well. After all, it’s hard to forget losing a chance to win the state title after triple overtime.
“We talked, after the game, about how we never want to feel like this again,” senior guard Finley Fitzgerald said. “After losing that game, we knew we had to work hard and do whatever it took this year to get through this game because we never want to feel like that.”
This match was the Class 4A semi-final against Xavier. The Mustangs were the No. 1 seed and led at halftime. But the Saints came back to win, advancing to the title match where they beat Bishop Heelan for the championship trophy.
But instead of dwelling on the past, Dallas Center-Grimes used that moment as fuel. A berth in the state tournament is the goal for most teams. The Mustangs, however, just want to take this year one game at a time.
“We’re not talking about the state tournament right now,” Fitzgerald said Friday after beating Indianola. “Even though it’s the last games of the season, we’re focused on Indianola tonight. We’ll focus on Pella Christian on Tuesday and we’ll play one game at a time.
The strategy seems to have worked so far. The Mustangs are 16-3 as of Tuesday and are undefeated in their conference. All but one of their losses came when they played a class.
And while Dallas Center-Grimes has gone on to win after win this season, perhaps one of his most impressive moments was a loss to Johnston.
The Dragons (19-1) aren’t just one of the best women’s basketball teams in the state in any class. Their only loss this season, to Dowling Catholic, was the program’s first since the 2021 state championship game nearly two years ago.
More:Johnston Women’s Basketball Team Ends Perfect Season With Class 5A State Championship
But before the Maroons beat Johnston in late January, Dallas Center-Grimes closed a month early. The Mustangs led after one quarter and were leading by 2 at halftime. Johnston’s 22-point performance in the third quarter was just too much to hold back.
“We came into this game with nothing to lose,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve played with a lot of these girls, so we know who they are. They know who we are. We came into this game thinking we could win, but we lost by 7 against a great team, so we’re okay with that.
A 7-point loss to Johnston could be just a small bump on the Mustangs’ path to the state tournament. But whether this is the year DCG collects all the pieces will be determined in the coming weeks.
But Dallas Center-Grimes has one thing that works in its favor: experience.
The Mustangs’ starting lineup features three juniors and two seniors. Fitzgerald played alongside Emma Miner, Vanessa Bickford, Aubrey Johansen and Josie Lampe for years — even before all five made the Mustangs college roster.
“We’re all best friends and really focused on team chemistry,” Fitzgerald said. “We have a lot of fun, and I think that’s why we’re so successful, because we just go out there and have fun and we love playing together.”
Alyssa Hertel is the college athletic recruiting reporter for the Des Moines Register. Contact Alyssa at [email protected] or on Twitter @AlyssaHertel.