Graff second on home turf
The Eudora Cardinals cross country team may have the best momentum right now of any of the school's four fall sports. The high profile football team has yet to hit its stride, the soccer team continues to struggle, and an argument can be made that the volleyball team peaked a little early.
Then there are the cross country girls. They have two meet championships in their last four opportunities -- including their triumph at Saturday's Eudora invitational. Eudora finished on top with 65 points, De Soto placed second with 87 and McLouth medaled in third with 98.
The girls placed three runners in the top 10 for the fourth consecutive meet. Freshman phenom Brittney Graff finished just a couple steps short of her second straight meet championship. Graff's 12 minutes and 50.7 seconds placed her at fourth on the all-time Eudora course list -- only former all-state runner Jessa Stein is ahead of her on that list.
Sensational sophomore Megan Ballock was not far behind in fourth with a time of 13:13 -- fifth best on the Eudora course list.
Surging sophomore Regan Sisson claimed eighth with a 13:20.
Rounding out the first-place team was Cara Seats in 20th (13:55), Tori Tunget in 37th (15:02) and Christina Pyle in 48th (15:50).
Pyle obliterated her previous best time of 17:36, allowing her team to post a season best time gap of three minutes.
The boys placed a solid third. The Cards' 110 points were well behind meet champion Gardner-Edgerton (31 points) and meet runner-up De Soto (67 points) but were well ahead of fourth place Wellsville (150 points).
The podium appearance could prove to be a significant statement for the boys team heading into sub-state.
"It was a very big deal," Eudora head coach Paul Boone said. "I felt good about how our guys competed. Not that I'm satisfied with that. I'm happy with our progress, but I want to make it to state."
Senior Tighe Van Anne continued his recent excellence, running a personal record 17:29 -- his fourth consecutive meet under 18:00.
"(Van Anne) ran well," Boone said. "He could've burned himself out. He was running with some guys that are really tough."
Cody Burns ran a solid 18:42 finishing in 13th. Sean Wiard broke the 19-minute barrier for the first time ever placing 18th at 18:57. Banged-up Tim DeArmond finished a respectable 26th with his 19:28.
Mason McCurdy placed 49th with a personal record 20:56. Kent Abel finished 56th with atime of 21:49. And Andy Schultz set a personal record for the third week in a row with his 22:19, placing 62nd in the process.
The boys' 1-5 time gap was 3:56.
Eudora's progression positions it to rival some of the area's premiere cross country schools in the very near future. But it's a rivalry developing within the Cardinal team that is garnishing a lot of attention at the present.
Ballock became a bit of a Cardinal sensation qualifying for state as a freshman in 2002. With early success comes the burden of expectation and leadership. Such pressures are rarely placed on sophomores, but Eudora boasts a very young team.
"(Ballock's) a quiet person but a very competitive person," Boone said. "She really represents a lot of the things that are good about sports."
Now, the established Ballock is faced with the emergence of a new sensation in Graff.
"(Graff's) running really well," Boone said. "She's finding out what she can do -- she's untapped. She's come a long way in a year work-wise. And she's got great leadership in that Megan comes to work every day."
Ballock has since gone from mentor to peer.
Cross country is a curious sport in that it celebrates individual performances in a team forum. While both Ballock and Graff are surely concerned with the success of the Cardinal team they must also concern themselves with individual success.
How the two walk that line between teammate and competitor will be a compelling sub-plot as Eudora advances through the remainder of the season.
Lately it's been Graff getting the better of Ballock.
"If you beat (Ballock) she's going to begrudgingly give you the respect you deserve, but she's not going to back off," Boone said. "She's going to come back out the next day and take it out on the practice field and push harder."
The rivalry will no doubt continue to develop over the next couple of years as these two lead the young and talented team.
Ballock, Graff and all the Cardinals will compete Thursday at the Frontier League meet at Rim Rock -- the last stop before regionals.