Eudora takes state with sharp Saturday
Given an inch, Eudora took state.
The Cardinal volleyball team overcame a disastrous first-day of pool play, then turned its miraculous survival into a worst-to-first tale the likes of which the Cardinals have never known. Offered the opportunity to advance via an unlikely upset, Eudora seized the momentum and won its first volleyball state championship with a two-game match victory over Augusta.
"We had nothing to lose," Eudora coach Jill Stutler said. "We knew what we had to do and that's what we focused on."
Eudora was driven to the brink of extinction Friday, but won a three-way tiebreaker to advance from its pool into Saturday morning's semi-finals. Once there, the Cardinals wasted little time worrying about how they got there and started smashing opponents.
The Cards beat up Topeka Hayden in three games, 25-20, 18-25, 25-16, then washed over Augusta for the championship, 25-19, 25-22.
"It was like night and day," Stutler said of the team's varying performances. "We had talked Friday night at the hotel about how we'd been given a second chance and how they needed to remember what they felt like when they thought their season was over."
No one was feeling very good after Eudora's first day ended. The team's play Saturday stood in stark contrast to the way it closed out Friday.
Twice losers on state's first day, Eudora seemed destined to make it three-straight in early trips home after losing the first match.
Despite a roster stocked with state-experienced players, the Cardinals appeared nervous and tentative out of the gate, and the stigma of having opened with disappointing first-days appeared to be weighing on the players.
The Cards fell behind Paola in the first game of the tournament, 5-1 and despite making several runs, they never came very close to catching up.
The Panthers slowed Eudora's hitters with solid and consistent blocking and opened the game up with powerful strokes of their own, eventually taking the first game, 25-21.
Eudora answered in the second game of the match with much better defense, and though they wouldn't immediately reap the benifits, that proved to be the key ingredient in their title run.
The score tied at 11, 21 and 22, and Paola was on the verge of putting it away, but Eudora forced one more tie, at 24.
Erin Kracl and Elaina Kouri came up with a huge block for a 25-24 lead and the Cardinals won the game when Paola's next kill floated just outside the line.
Paola took the final game of the first set 25-21, but the Cardinals didn't stay down for long.
Defense was again the catalyst, and the hitters that led the team all season -- Kracl and Nikki Snider -- found their stroke, giving the Cards a bit of a punch as well.
Eudora dismissed Holton quickly, taking the first game 25-19 and the second 25-23.
It seemed the Cardinals lost their chance to advance with a heartbreaking two-game loss to Circle, however. Circle carved through the competition in pool play to finish at the top of the pool with a 3-0 record.
They made short work of Eudora, 25-16 and 25-21.
"We came in Friday and we just had too much pressure on ourselves," Stutler said. "We couldn't relax and couldn't get in any type of rhythm in any of the three matches we played.
"Saturday it was just about coming out and playing."
Maybe it was all just jitters, because once the night passed and Eudora returned for its second day of competition, it was as if a different team strolled onto the court.
The Cards fell behind Topeka Hayden early in the semi-final round, but Kracl and Snider quickly took control and that defense was as solid as it had been all tournament.
Eudora tied the game at four with a Kracl kill, then again at nine before opening the gates.
Kracl lept high for a big block, then Snider reeled off three straight points. Stutler said part of Eudora's overnight transformation was in the way it attacked.
Rather than just hammering away, the hitters added more taps, and to great effect.
Snider's first point was a bruising spike, the next a delicate touch and the third another powerful blow.
"We were just being smarter hitters," Stutler said. "We knew when to use the tips Saturday and when we needed to put the ball down aggressively.
"Against Hayden, everyone did their job and we had no weaknesses in that match."
Kayci Vickers managed a huge dig, which quickly led to another hard Snider kill and soon Eudora had opened up the game, 17-13.
Hayden rallied to tie things at 18, but three Hayden mistakes put Eudora up again, and consecutive digs-turned-spikes paved the way to the win.
Snider saved the first, setting up a Kracl kill. Then Snider did the hitting herself after another big save by Vickers.
Kouri came through for the final point and Eudora was rolling.
"The last two years we've chocked and Friday we chocked again, but we got out of pool play, I think that made us play better on Saturday," Kracl said. "We played like it was our last day and we gave it all for each other."
Hayden took the second game by seven points, but Eudora made it ugly in the third.
After Hayden closed to within 13-9, Kracl and Paige Schultz came together for a pair of key blocks. Kouri had back-to-back big digs that turned into points and Kracl smashed home another kill, putting Eudora on the road to the title match with an 18-11 lead.
Mariah Webb scored to bring the Cardinals within two of advancing. Kouri hit an ace to make it one and a held ball by Hayden finally sent Eudora on.
"We knew going into Hayden that they had an extremely talented outside hitter and we had to get touches on the block against her to take her out of her game," Stutler said. "We blocked better and our defense was absolutely phenomenal."
There was no stopping them in the finals.
The scored tied at four, but Eudora scored the next six points. Hayden closed the score again, but a Snider block and two Kracl kills gave Eudora the 25-19 victory.
Eudora again built a big lead in the final game of the season, and led 16-10. A pair of Schultz aces put the Cards up 18-13 and a pair of Snider kills made Eudora's victory imminent, 22-18.
Hayden came a little closer, but three Kracl kills put the team on the verge of the state title. One final Kracl-Schultz block put it over, and the Cardinals celebrated history.
"Once we got past Hayden, you just saw this look in the girls' eyes that they knew they were going all the way," Stutler said. "The girls just played their best volleyball on Saturday. It was absolutely tremendous to watch them.
"As a coach, you want so badly to see your kids be successful. We've been a part of Eudora for seven years now and we've been preaching to the kids how great it is to realize your goals. It was an unbelievable experience watching them do that, and seeing them accomplish everything they wanted to."