Archive for Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Fly Route

January 18, 2007

Ted Ginn Jr., the speedy Ohio State wide receiver, is leaving school. So is JaMarcus Russell, LSU's quarterback. Adrian Peterson, the running back from Oklahoma -- gone.

The Eudora girls basketball team will for the most part be hanging around for at least another year, however, and for that, coach Ryan Luke should be very thankful. In reality, there's nowhere for Eudora's red-hot young players to go -- high schoolers don't leave early.

But what they can't do as individuals, they've done as a team -- Eudora's young players are taking this team to the next level.

Top to bottom, inside and out, in the mind and on the floor, this team has come of age in the last month and while the next four weeks will no doubt be more telling than the last four, Eudora has established itself to be one of the strongest teams in the Frontier League.

That's not at all the way things looked when the season started. Eudora opened the season by hosting a tournament -- usually a sure way to pick up a few wins and build a young group's confidence. The Cardinals hardly learned the lessons Luke had in mind, however. Eudora stumbled early, lost its first two games and found itself in the seventh-place game of its own tournament.

Eudora's lost only once since then, however. The Cardinals have beaten Frontier League foes Spring Hill, De Soto, Central Heights and Anderson County. It's the turnaround few could have dreamed as the girls battled to win seventh place at home back in early December.

"We've improved a lot,"Luke said. "This is a young group. It's been amazing -- the effort they've given and the strides they've made."

It's not just the winning. The Cardinals did it the right way Monday against Atchison in a 56-52 victory.

Haley Epperson has emerged as the team's go-to player -- a real treat considering that she's only a sophomore. She was great Monday, forcing the action by driving to the lane and showing her range with a few pull-up jumpers.

Even better was that she didn't simply carry Eudora. Junior Emily Ballock was almost as good cutting through the lane and Allison Braden, the team's lone senior, was a force down below.

Being a forward doesn't always mean having good or quick hands, but it's a trait always found in the best. Braden wasn't always perfect against Atchison, but she deftly handled quick passes from Eudora's guards and consistently turned them into both points and free throw attempts.

The team's greatest challenges still lie ahead. The Cards should be favored to get past a 3-6 Lansing team Friday at Tonganoxie, but will have a lot to prove if they get to play Tonganoxie Saturday in the tournament championship.

The Chieftains will be the best team Eudora's faced and one of the best they'll see all year.

It'll be hard to get overly excited about the team's long-term chances until that game. The squad's rapid improvement and astonishing turnaround is still something to be applauded, however.

"Earlier in the year we probably would have lost that game," Luke said of the Atchison game. "And they're all coming back, that's the impressive thing."

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