Eudora’s quest for state championship ends with controversy
The Eudora Cardinals' magical volleyball season came to a difficult end Friday at the 4A state tournament at Salina's Bicentennial Center. Eudora (35-7) performed well earning a 2-1 record in pool play. But a contested three-way tie-breaker prevented the Cards from advancing to Saturday's four-team championship bracket.
Eudora opened pool play with a rematch opportunity with seventh-seeded Prairie View (23-14). The Cardinals suffered their first loss of the season in September to the Buffalos at La Cygne. At the time it was considered a decisive upset. However, Prairie View's state tournament berth lent accreditation to the Buffalo victory.
Eudora exacted its revenge with a commanding 25-20, 25-16 opening-match triumph.
"We knew Prairie View was going to be gunning for us," junior setter Kelsey Epperson said. "We knew they would think since they had beat us before, we wouldn't be a hard thing. But we were definitely ready for that first game."
The opening match-up with Prairie View provided the Cardinals with its only opportunity to face a familiar opponent -- a unique luxury for the green Eudora bunch.
"We had never been to state before, and coach had never been to state before with us; definitely nerves were really high that game," Epperson said. "I'm glad we got to play Prairie View first to get our nerves out that game. We knew about them, we knew what we were going to see, and we got through that match. We didn't play our best, but it was a good experience to get our nerves out."
Those nerves may have been amplified by the preceding week's preparation.
"I think we were just so excited about sub-state, because that was such a big accomplishment, and that's what we were working for," Epperson said. "We hadn't really thought about anything after that until we actually achieved that goal.
"So, we were a little slow at practice, and they weren't the best practices that we've had. I mean, we got done what we needed to do but it wasn't anything spectacular. Everything about the week, coach couldn't have planned better though; everything was well-set, organized and set-out."
The Cardinals followed an hour after the Prairie View match with sixth-seeded Wamego (24-10). Eudora battled through an up-and-down match, posting a victory (25-14, 21-25, 25-14).
"We played well the first game, but we've struggled in second games this year," Epperson said. "We've had to play a lot of third games, which isn't good and obviously it killed us in the end. But we came back and blew them away in the third game.
:Despite the second game, we played very well against them. I think we just had a few let-downs in the second game mentally and physically."
Eudora's two opening wins set the stage for a critical contest with third-seeded Holton (28-7), the winner automatically advancing to the state semi-finals. The top-two teams in each of the two pools advanced to the bracket play.
Holton hounded the Cardinals, cruising to a 25-15, 25-14 win.
"The Holton match was just a mess -- that's how I'd describe it," Epperson said. "We weren't playing our game. Against Wamego we really came together, played as a team, and everything flowed.
"And against Holton it seemed we didn't do anything right. We weren't mentally prepared. I don't think we were ready for that game.
"They played awesome against us; they really did."
The Cardinals subsequently fell victim to the disappointing tie-breaker decision.
There was confusion among the tournament administrators regarding the tie-breaking process and whether or not winning percentage or head-to-head competition was the key issue. Originally, based upon the Cards head-to-head win over Wamego, Eudora was in. However, that result was later changed as the emphasis was shifted to game-winning percentages.
"They wrote our name on the bracket so we got all excited and didn't even worry about the Holton game at all," Epperson said. "But then after Wamego played Prairie View, they whited it out and then there was all kinds of controversy. And then five hours later, we found out we didn't make it.
"The most heartbreaking thing about it was just the sitting in our hotel room wondering whether we were in or out."
Despite failing to advance to Saturday's semi-finals, the Cardinals' season was one to remember. They ended a 13-year post-season drought and set a school record 35 wins.
"After you're so excited about going to state, then in your mind you're thinking if we're going we might as well win," Epperson said. "Seven teams are going home with their heads down, and one team is going home happy. And we wanted to be the team again to go home happy.
"It was really disappointing but you have to think we went 2-1 in our first year of state. We were one of the best teams there and we knew that. Hopefully we'll come back next year and win it."