The fly route
We ran headlines about the big expectations and spent the last two weeks trying to remind readers about the Eudora girls basketball team's strong finish to last season.
Really though, what did any of us expect? Last year's team did finish on an impressive role -- it played its way into the sub-state championship game despite entering the tournament as a six seed. It pulled back-to-back upsets, and it gave the seemingly invincible Tonganoxie Chieftains a run for their money in their own gym.
That was, technically at least, the same Eudora team that lost six of eight heading into the postseason -- the same team that matched every promising stretch of basketball with an equally mystifying one.
Expecting the sub-state Cardinal team to show up this season wasn't exactly a done deal.
The girls confirmed all of their fans' most ambitious dreams Monday, however. In beating up Piper in the first round of the Panther Invitational, Eudora looked even better than it did at its best last year.
The Cardinals were fast, aggressive and strong. Even better, they showed they were deep.
Junior Haley Epperson led the team with 19 points and dominated late in the second half, helping squash a potential Piper comeback.
Tall and fast, her best attribute is her ability to work over any defender in the paint. She repeatedly worked for the open spot, finding a way to get the ball. She was often in position to grab the offensive rebound, and she can handle the ball as well as anyone on the team.
Her most spectacular play Monday came in the fourth quarter. She took a pass while cutting straight down the lane to the basket, jumped and cleared her flight path to the hoop with a head and ball fake that sent the even the Paola fans waiting for the Eudora game to end into cheers.
And there is depth.
Junior Bailey Scott was tremendous in the second quarter and she joined with senior Emily Ballock to form the teeth in the swift Eudora squad's full-court press.
Scott's best play came in that quarter as the Cardinals were trying to rally for a four-point first-quarter deficit. Epperson worked her defender a few steps out toward Scott, who was loitering with the ball beyond the 3-point line. Epperson then pinned her defender away from the hoop as Scott lofted a perfect pass right over them both for an easy two points.
Senior Nikki Snider was also powerful in her first game with the team in nearly two years. Snider, who skipped her junior campaign to pursue volleyball dreams, barely played a full quarter due to severe foul trouble. She still finished with 14 points, displaying just how effective a second dominate post player can be.
The list can go on and on -- this team might be able to rotate 10 different players into the lineup without much of a drop off. Be it in Ballock, Elaina Kouri, Evan Folks, Rachel Pyle, Mariah Webb or Kendel Abel, there is experience, guts, smarts from every player and a defined role for every player.
It wasn't all perfect. Piper isn't a bad team at all and Eudora couldn't deliver the knockout blow until the fourth quarter. The Pirates closed to within five points before the Cardinals finally started to stretch things back out. The scoring outbursts were traded in for turnovers and Piper's low posts were able to generate steady production.
Is that evidence of the same Jekyll and Hyde syndrome that tormented the team a year ago? Check back in a month to be sure, but I don't think so. When it made its season-defining run through sub-state last year, Eudora was playing to its utmost potential.
One game into 2007 and there's already plenty evident that the potential for this year's team is appreciably better than last year's ever was.