Big wins mark Cardinals’ season
The Eudora Cardinals volleyball team (35-7) recently completed its most successful season in school history. Eudora set a school record with 35 wins en route to a sub-state championship. The Cardinals finished the season just a few points short of advancing to the state tournament's final four.
"I thought the season as a whole went pretty well," coach Jill Stutler said. "We were able to reach a lot of our goals -- 30 wins, getting three big wins at sub-state and performing well in going 2-1 in pool play in our first time at state. I was pretty pleased."
Eudora began the season with the proposition of replacing graduated all-state star Lauren Kracl. Expectations for the 2004 team were to expect anything. The Cards returned five of six starters, but the Kracl-factor left the team with a level of uncertainty. But a 7-0 start, including big wins over nemesis Baldwin and talented Ottawa, answered many of those questions.
For Stutler, even though her team was 24-5, the Cards didn't truly make their statement until the McLouth tournament, their final of the season.
"The McLouth tournament was a big step for us," she said. "We turned the corner that day.
"And early on, the Ottawa game was big. We showed a lot of character and that we would never give up.
"I think we learned something against everyone we faced this year. Even when we weren't on top of our game, we gained experience that helped us later on."
That Ottawa game revealed Eudora's penchant for dramatic comebacks and its steely determination -- the team's defining characteristics.
"They never said die," Stutler said. "They were fighters all the way through. And they worked well together. They were a cohesive unit."
The key to that cohesiveness was leadership.
"With the high expectations the captains had during the last couple of years, (cohesiveness) was their priority," Stutler said. "We expect a lot from them, but it's a matter of those captains making sure nothing affects the team chemistry. The kids the last couple of years wanted it so bad that they were willing to sacrifice anything to get there."
That leadership stemmed from the Cardinal seniors, Brooke Bell and Kayla Moyer. During their tenure, Eudora's program reached new heights and established itself as a legitimate perennial contender.
"Both of them did so much for us throughout their four years," Stutler said. "Both of them developed very well. I never thought I'd ever put Kayla on the front row, but she did a good job of placing the ball where it needed to go. And Brooke's athleticism gave us an extra weapon.
"Day in and day out they gave the effort and never gave up. It says a lot for both of them."
Eudora's hard work and record-breaking season culminated with a 2-1 record at the state tournament in Salina. A controversial tie-break policy prevented the Cards from advancing, but the state appearance undoubtedly advanced the prestige of Eudora's program and its hopes for the future.
"I think after all the delay and decision and chaos, the kids realize that getting a state title is well within our reach if we work hard enough," Stutler said. "Hopefully that will carry them through next year.
"We walked away from state thinking that there wasn't anybody there that we couldn't beat, even Holton. We just played a little scared against them. But going 2-1 was a positive. We just need to bring the same intensity we had sub-state day.
"Now the question is whether or not we're going to work as hard during this off-season in the weight room and do what it takes to maintain this momentum next year."
Stutler is sure to use the state experience as motivation and incentive during the coming months and into next season.
"I will keep reminding them how fun this year was," Stutler said. "We've got a different group of kids coming in, but they know what to expect. We'll keep it simple for them and keep them working hard. We've got some great kids coming back at the varsity level and some great kids at the JV level that got some varsity experience this year.
"If we work hard, the rest will fall into place. I think with the juniors we have coming back -- they won't let anyone get content."
Stutler certainly isn't content, but she is satisfied with a tremendous season and a lifetime experience at sub-state.
"From a coaching standpoint, probably the biggest highlight of the year was just watching the kids celebrate after winning sub-state," she said. "That was far more gratifying than anything else.
"I thought on sub-state day the girls couldn't have played better than they did. And I really couldn't have asked for a better season."