Cardinals net exemplary season
The Eudora Cardinal volleyball family has had a little time now to reflect on its remarkable 2003 campaign. It was a season that witnessed the evolution of last year's competitive 19-11 team into this year's near dominant 28-5 team.
The season ended with a heart-wrenching sub-state loss to Tonganoxie -- a game the team would like to forget about. But no one will forget about this team or this season.
"I feel really excited about the season and how well it went," said sophomore setter Kelsey Epperson. "It's really cool to be the team that changed everything. And it shows that one year can make a big impact on a community."
Eudora surpassed nearly every goal it set -- except for a berth in the state tournament.
"I think this one is going to sit in their stomachs for a while," head coach Jill Stutler said after the Tongie match. "But it's going to help spur those upperclassmen and bring those kids back knowing that it was attainable for us. And for the seniors...hopefully it's going to make them work a little harder and that they're going to want more success wherever they go."
The Cards lose some valuable talent to graduation this year -- Lauren Kracl and service specialist Kelly Spence.
Kracl is a four-time team MVP and perennially receives all-league, all-area and all-state honors. Her contribution to the team's record-breaking season is immeasurable.
"I think everyone will have to pick up for (Kracl's) loss," Epperson said. "I'm going to have to step it up, but it comes with the younger girls as well. Overall everyone will have to help fill her shoes."
Fortunately the Cardinals were very young this year. Once again they'll have just two seniors, Brooke Bell and Kayla Moyer.
Eudora will also return Carrie Lister for her junior season and Lauren's younger sister Erin Kracl for her sophomore season.
Freshmen Jessi Stewart and Paige Schultz joined the team on the post-season roster and will surely be expected to contribute next year.
Ultimately how the team will adjust to life after Lauren Kracl is unsure. But that challenge could be the spark that allows the Cardinals to continue their meteoric rise.
Eudora will be motivated by a desire to prove that the team's gaudy 28-5 record was representative of a great team effort. "It's going to be a big test without (Kracl) in the rotation," Epperson said. "But we should have a lot more standouts next year...no one will be hiding behind Kracl."
In fact it may be Epperson that the team gets behind. A setter is generally considered the quarterback of the volleyball court.
"I look forward to next year and hopefully we'll continue where we left off this year," she said. "You always hope that next year you'll get better and you'll get past the previous step. There's a lot of talent coming up from the middle school, and we set by example that the younger kids can make a difference, too."
The younger talent will help fill roster spots, but it wasn't talent that carried this year's team. It was chemistry. The Cardinals were a cohesive group that possessed a rare bond on and off the court.
"Chemistry is what this team had," Epperson said. "If someone was out of sync one game, another would pick her up. The whole team came together as one unit. We were hard working too. We gave it our all during the off-season and in practice, and it showed in the games."
Recapturing that magic will be a far more important goal than replacing the seniors.
It is not as if the athletic careers of Kracl and Spence are done. Kracl is expected to once again lead the Cardinal basketball team, and Spence is a key cog on the softball team.