Third time’s a charm
The Cardinal volleyball team qualified for, then tripped up at state two years in a row … they don’t plan on making it three
They've done it all two years in a row.
They've ridden the bus, carefully decorated by supporters. They've had the fans send them off from the Eudora High School parking lot, then cheer them widely in Salina's Bicentennial Center.
They've rolled through the regular season, smashed their way through the sub-state tournaments and arrived intact with spirits high at the Class 4A state volleyball tournament.
Then it's all gone wrong.
There's no shame in not winning a state title. Eight teams advance to the state tournament every year and the scores of Class 4A teams in Kansas that don't earn the right would trade anything for an opportunity to play under the lights in the big arena. Only two teams have taken home the largest of the state trophies since Eudora made Salina in October a regular travel spot.
There's no reason to feel bad the Cardinals haven't been one of them.
Don't tell the Eudora volleyball team that, though.
The Cardinals know they've been sickeningly close to their overall goal twice, and now they're banking that the third try will be the one that pays.
"We definitely want to go back to state," Eudora senior Paige Schultz said.
The disappointment had to have been unbearable. After months of practice and a season with only four regular season losses, Eudora was eliminated from the state championship tournament in the first round last season, just as they had been the year before.
It was the team's first two matches that sealed its fate in 2005. Eudora lost to Wamego in two games, then fell to Topeka Hayden in two as well, capping off all reasonable chances the Cardinals had of advancing.
The finish was a little more gut wrenching in 2004. Eudora lost only one of its three Day 1 matches, but came up third in a three-way tiebreaker and had to head home heartbroken.
Can it replay again in 2006? Senior Erin Kracl said no, not if she has a say.
The team graduated a number of key seniors, but Kracl said the Cards are primed to go to the only place they've not been before -- the second day of the state tournament.
"Since it will be our third time, our nerves will be calmed down," Kracl said. "We should play much better this year."
It's a long way to Salina, though. The 2006 Class 4A state tournament is scheduled to begin Oct. 27, and if Eudora wants to play competitive volleyball on Oct. 28, the team agreed it must focus on everything between the season opener -- an Aug. 29 quadrangular at Baldwin -- and the sub-state tournament first.
"We have to get everyone to work together," Schultz said. "Even though it's state, we need to work hard the rest of the year."
Eudora had to win 38 matches before it qualified for state in 2005, and it had to overcome a path that was by no means easy. New obstacles are sure to crop up in 2006, as well. New faces need to step up and fill the holes left by talented and reliable graduates.
And as important as returning to the state tournament is, Kracl said she won't let it define the team's success in the coming season.
"If we go out there and play 100 percent but don't get to state because other teams beat us, I would consider the season fairly successful," Kracl said.
But if the Cardinals' season goes the way they planned, they said come the end of October they'll be loading up a bus. Again. It'll be decorated and painted. Again. The fans will cheer as the team rolls west. Again.
And they won't come home until the tournament is over.
"It's a good experience to have, and we all plan on going back and playing well," Kracl said.