Success makes volleyball team a target
The Eudora High School volleyball team was good, and the team members knew it. The Cardinals finished last season with a ton of tournament wins, made two state appearances in as many years and all-star player Erin Kracl boasted some 430 kills in the 2005 season. The players had a lot to be proud about.
But two consecutive years as one of the state's best teams comes with pressure, too.
The Cardinals, who began fall practices Monday, said they didn't expect that to interfere with their plans for another spectacular season, though.
"I expect us to do just as well as in past years," Kracl said, "if not better."
Before any talk of being better can begin, the Cards must find a way to replace the holes left after big swinger Carrie Lister and reliable setter Kelsey Epperson graduated.
Both played key roles in the team's back-to-back runs to the state tournament, and neither left holes easily filled, coach Jill Stutler said.
Paige Schultz will likely get the first crack at replacing Epperson. The senior spent the last two years getting most of her minutes as an outside hitter, and offers the team a different look than the shorter Epperson offered.
Epperson was a four-year starter, though, and provided priceless experience, especially in her senior season.
"That's the person who's running your show out there on the court," Stutler said. "She's going to have to know what the other teams' strengths and weaknesses are. (Paige's) role is huge as a setter.
"Paige is just a pretty quite, consistent player. There's nothing fancy. She knows what she needs to do and she gets the job done."
Replacing Lister must come as more of a group effort, Stutler said.
A group of three underclassmen are currently vying for the honor, and all offer different advantages.
"It changes from day to day," Stutler said Tuesday. "Elaina Kouri is looking pretty consistent. She adds some height. Kendal Abel is naturally a setter, so that helps. And Catherine Klotz has improved quite a bit between seasons. All three are bringing different things to the court.
"It's the second day of practice, though, so it's hard to tell."
The 2006 schedule is filled with danger as well. The Cardinals open up at 5 p.m. Aug. 29 in a quadrangular against host Baldwin, Basehor-Linwood and Bonner Springs. A long haul to Pomona awaits after the season opener.
Eudora will play at home only twice in 2006. The first home matches come Sept. 19 against Central Heights, Prairie View and Osawatomie. The Cardinals will also host Louisburg, Baldwin and Paola on Oct. 19.
The Cardinals will face state qualifying teams in XXXXXXXXX, Stutler said those aren't kinds of games that keep her up at night.
Despite romping through the regular season in 2004 and 2005, she said her team is as vulnerable as any other if the players don't stay focused.
The two outstanding seasons and consecutive trips to the state tournament has done more than fill trophy cases -- they've made the Cardinals prime targets for predators hunting for big name victims.
"With our success last year and the way we didn't finish at state motivates us to train at a higher level," Stutler said. "We have to push more than last year to maintain."