Archive for Thursday, November 2, 2006

The Fly Route

November 2, 2006

I didn't take a picture because it just seemed rude.

Eudora volleyball coach Jill Stutler paced the halls of Salina's Bicentennial Center as her team's season undoubtedly ended on the court around which she circled.

She stopped to peek in every so often, and even stayed to watch as it appeared briefly that the right team would win the final match of the day, sending her Cardinals to the next round of the state tournament.

But when that hope began to dissipate -- the team Eudora was pulling for trailed 23-15, then 24-17 -- she pulled away and walked back into a corner, arms folded tight against her body and eyes fixated on the cold cement floors of the building that had seen Cardinal dreams ruined now for the third straight year.

I stood and watched from a distance, having also given up on the team's chances of advancing, but I didn't take a picture. With all that had happened, snapping away would have felt like rubbing it in.

What fools we all were.

If you can say you saw Eudora's miraculous and state championship coming in the waning seconds of Friday's action, you're a liar.

Not only did their chances of advancing seem to be one in a thousand, the Cardinal team that stumbled through Friday's opening-day action had no business winning a state championship.

The team that sliced through Saturday's final two matches did, however.

The precision and the power, the execution and the grace with which Eudora played Saturday was the pinnacle of three entire years of dominant volleyball.

Make no mistake -- after two-straight years of losing out of the first day of the state tournament the Cardinals were lucky to overcome what had become a fortress as impenetrable as Fort Knox. But once finally on the other side of the wall, the Cardinals smashed their competition.

It's reasonable to wonder if Eudora would have racked up its third state championship had the team just been able to solve the first-day riddle two years ago.

But I don't think so.

Without those experiences, this town wouldn't be celebrating a championship today. Without the frustration and the questions that lingered after talented teams returned home trophy-less, I don't think this year's team has what it takes to roll to the state title.

Teams from year's prior were arguably more complete, but what this program has been through made the 2006 group the best of the bunch.

That didn't always show throughout the season, but it always did in the end. Eudora repeatedly struggled against Class 4A opponents -- teams prior Cardinals squads might have squashed. But this year's team found a way to take advantage of situations and win when it had to.

The Cards didn't beat Tonganoxie this season. But the Chieftains were shipped off to another sub-state and didn't advance.

Eudora lost to St. James twice, and fell behind again, losing the first game to the Thunder in the sub-state final. But the Cardinals rallied to extend their season.

Eudora also always struggled with Paola, even losing to the Panthers at state. But Paola was one of two teams left in the dust as Eudora squeaked by via a three-team tiebreaker.

Eudora became the best team in the state by remembering that it should never give up, by remembering sometimes finesse trumps better than power and by remembering that it should win in two and lose in three whenever possible.

Eudora won the state championship because Stutler had paced those same hallways two years in a row. Without those disappointments, this team doesn't make it to state, it doesn't make it to the second day and it doesn't bring home the biggest trophy of them all.

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