Anna Strohmeier is 11, but for years she's been listening to her father talk to recruits on the phone about the chance to compete for a national championship.
She sent Dad a text message on Monday that said in part: "Maybe next year.''
Anna cares deeply about the Reivers, just like her father, head coach Scott, and his assistants. Just like all of the players who have come to Council Bluffs to continue their journeys. Just like their parents, who send their children off to college, cross their fingers and hope for the best.
For most of you who have a casual interest in Iowa Western football, you feel badly about their rotten luck for a few moments and then move on with your lives. For those who live and breathe it every day, it's not that easy.
"I feel bad for these kids, because they work so hard that you want a shot at a national championship,'' he said. "But there's more to it than football. Hopefully we can teach these guys some life lessons. There's times you can do everything correctly and it still doesn't work out. The toughest part is you don't get these opportunities every year.''
Strohmeier was gracious enough on Monday to allow me to sit in on their team meeting after the news had broken earlier. The 140 or so players listened attentively. There wasn't the joking or laughing that might have been accompanied by better news.
The coach's message was to stay out of Twitter wars, especially with East Mississippi and Arizona Western and the NJCAA. They are impossible to win. Channel your frustration into the next few weeks of practice and the bowl game. Relish the chance to continue to play the game you love.
It's unfortunate that the votes of the nine committee members who sealed Iowa Western's fate can't be made public. If someone was unfairly voting the Reivers fifth or sixth, or worse, he might think differently if he knew his vote would be made public. Strohmeier would like to see more transparency, regardless of the beneficiary.
"I think that cuts out on some swaying,'' he said. "I think that cuts out on some politics. It's still going to happen. But at the end of the day, it's easy for me to sit on a computer and put who I want and nobody sees it.''
Strohmeier is president of the NJCAA coaches' association. He said the coaches will continue to look for ways to make a better postseason system. The most drastic change would be to add more teams to the playoffs. The FCS has a 24-team playoff and the NCAA Division II bracket has 14 teams. It doesn't seem like asking too much to have at least a four-team playoff in the NJCAA. Strohmeier said he'd be happy to drop a game from his regular-season schedule if it meant adding another round.
"I think it's going to change. I don't know how,'' he said. "There's so much that needs to be discussed. You should never mess with a system until you feel you have to. But at the same time, you're never going to do it unless something like this happens.''
There's no question one of the three deserving teams was going to be angry on Monday. My problem is this: When one team earned the majority of the human votes not only in the final poll, but in the final five polls, and that team isn't in the final game, then you're relying too much on a computer. Period.
Someday perhaps it will fall in Iowa Western's favor again. In 2014, the Reivers, East Mississippi and Trinity Valley were all 11-0. Trinity Valley was left on the outside looking in. The difference was that Trinity Valley was trailing the other two all season, not ascending to the top only to be yanked down without losing.
Either way, it stings to be third.
"I know what they're going through right now,'' Strohmeier said.
Anna Strohmeier felt the pain on Monday along with the rest of the Reiver family. When the video stream wasn't functioning for the Ellsworth game earlier this year she became upset at home, "almost crying when it was 30-20 when they've got the ball,'' her dad said.
When Strohmeier went home Monday night to empathize with Anna, along with daughters Emily, 14, and Kate, 9, and wife, Karla, he said he would use it as a teaching moment as a father.
"I'll use that as a life lesson for her, too,'' he said. "We still get to play another game. We're not losers just because we didn't win a national championship.''