Graff, girls happy with times, not results
Nearly any other girl and nearly any other team would have spent Saturday afternoon and evening celebrating.
But it may take Brittney Graff and the Eudora girls cross country team a little while to put it all in perspective.
Graff finished second at the Class 4A cross country state championships, while the girls team was 10th in its fifth-straight appearance at the meet run at the Wamego Country Club golf course.
"Yes, she would have liked to have won the state championship again," Eudora coach Paul Boone said, "but she also understands she came out, she did the best she could, she gave it her all and she faced someone that had a little more."
Graff has struggled against Saturday's champion -- Baldwin's Heather Garcia -- all season long, but the Eudora senior didn't give up the defense of her 2005 individual title without a fight for the ages.
The two have broken away from the pack early and dueled alone in each of their four previous matchups, but Saturday's race saw them accompanied by several runners -- for awhile, anyway.
Graff often led the lead pack and several times pushed ahead for small leads. Others attempting to hang up front soon tired, but Graff's best pushes couldn't shake Garcia and time and time against the junior closed the small gaps before finally opening up one of her own.
"That was the goal," Boone said of Graff's attempts to create some space earlier in the race. "She tried. Heather has great speed and if you're with her with 800 meters to go, it's going to be very difficult. She's a strong sprinter. The thing about her too, she has great endurance.
"Sometimes you try to guard Michael Jordan up close, he has great speed. Then when you give him some room, he can shoot it over you. The thing about cross country is we couldn't double team (Heather). She's just a tremendous competitor and a tremendous athlete."
Garcia finished the four-kilometer course in 14 minutes, five seconds and Graff came sprinting around the final corner and through the massive crowd gathered near the finish line 19 seconds later, finishing in 14:24.
The times were not just the two best in the Class 4A race, but they were the two best in the state. Graff would have won her second-straight state championship in any of Kansas' five other classes -- and it wouldn't have been close. Graff finished nearly 30 seconds before anyone else in Kansas.
"If she felt she didn't give her best effort or didn't prepare properly, that would eat at her, but there was nothing left undone," Boone said. "In that sense, she can live with it."
Graff wasn't alone in ending the day disappointed. But the team, like its fastest runner, didn't have to look far to find some positives.
Eudora couldn't match its fourth-place finish of last season. The Cardinals compiled 213 points, well behind team champion, De Soto, which had 67 points and runner-up, Baldwin, at 83. Still, the Cards were only three points from eighth. El Dorado was seventh with 198, but Tonganoxie had 211 in eighth and Buhler had 212 in ninth.
All times added together, the difference between eighth, ninth and tenth was less than a second.
Lauren Colman was the first Eudora runner behind Graff, finishing 52nd in the field of 104 in 16:19. Emily Ballock was 68th in 16:46. Liz Hoese was 82nd in 17:23. Anne Marie Meyer-Myklsted was 93rd 17:54. Molly Burton finished 98th in 18:15 and Bre Miller was 102nd in 19:17.
"I think when they saw the times they felt better, but we always want to take something from a race," Boone said. "Sometimes it will be positive, but sometimes it will be something that drives you.
"(The girls) felt they should have finished higher and they could have, but we did our best with what we had."