Standout Ballock born to run
Cross country may not be the most attention-grabbing sport. There are probably more fans buying Pyle's sausages at a football game as watch a cross country meet, but there remains one overwhelming factor that drives a cross country athlete like Eudora sophomore Megan Ballock -- a love of running.
Ballock loves to run. And it shows.
With the glory shining on other sports, distance runners have to search deep inside themselves for motivation. Their work ethic is born out of a deep competitive desire and a passion for pushing themselves to personal breaking points.
The Cardinals' super sophomore embodies all the qualities of a star without the stage.
"There are a lot of negative feelings toward running," cross country coach Paul Boone said. "Most athletes look at it as something you have to do when you do something wrong."
But that is far from the view that Ballock possesses.
"I just like running a lot," she said. "There are so many different strategies in a race and it's a lot of fun. Practicing is fun, too."
When was the last time a coach heard an athlete utter those words? But Boone confirms Ballock's statement.
"Her approach to working out is to have a lot of fun with it," he said. "She doesn't look at it as work -- it's fun. It is a neat attitude that is infectious and spreads around. She really embodies a lot of the things that are good about sports."
Providing an infectious atmosphere is a new role that fell on Ballock this season.
The Cards fielded one of the youngest cross country teams in the state. Ballock was one of two letter-winners returning to the girls team. Although only a sophomore, Ballock asserted herself as a team leader. Her state-qualifying freshman season, coupled with her unparalleled work ethic, earned her instant credibility with her teammates.
"There's a lot of pressure being a leader, but I like it," Ballock said. "I always try to encourage other people. They look up to me sort of."
Ballock's influence surely had a positive impact on freshman teammate Brittney Graff -- and vice versa.
Graff put together one of the most impressive freshman season's ever by a Cardinal. Her startling emergence gave Eudora a powerful one-two punch. It also generated a friendly rivalry.
Rivalries can either bring out the best or the worst in people. For Ballock at least, it appears to have brought out the best.
"It helps a lot to know there is someone on the team that's really good, too," Ballock said. "It makes me train harder knowing that someone's there that can beat me. We are really competitive with each other and a lot of our success has come from that. We push each other to get better."
Graff got the better of Ballock on a few occasions, but Boone thinks that will only make his sophomore standout more dangerous next year.
"(Ballock) hates it when anyone beats her," he said. "If it's someone from Eudora that beats her, it's a little bit better, but not much."
It is the mental image of Graff and others ahead of Ballock that fuels her off-season approach.
"I always have something to train for," she said. "Whenever I run I think of all those that have beat me. I know a lot of them now, and I want to beat them. In the off-season, even when I don't want to run, I think about when the season comes around I'll be glad."
Prior to this season Ballock set a trip to state as the team's primary goal.
"(Ballock) said that she wasn't sure if she believed it would happen," Boone said. "But if she hadn't set that goal it definitely wouldn't have happened."
Ballock couldn't have realized her goal without the maturation of her fellow sophomore teammates Cara Seats, Regan Sisson and Tori Tunget and reshman teammate Christina Pyle.
Cross country is a unique sport that emphasizes individual responsibilities simultaneously.
"As a runner I think of it as more of an individual sport," Ballock said, "because you're running against yourself and the course. You determine how well you run by how much work you put in. But it does help knowing and team you have a team running with you and counting on you. We really care about how everybody is doing."