Archive for Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Fly Route

June 14, 2007

There are no real requirements or conditions for being named the male or female athlete of the year. This is the first year we have offered such recognition, and we did so without any standards, guidelines or measuring system.

It was a decision made after checking over some stats and talking with a few coaches, but one primarily made from the gut.

It wasn't science, but it was fun, and I'll lay out a little of the debate that went into selecting Matthew Abel and Emily Ballock this year's Eudora News Athletes of the Year.

There was no decision more difficult than selecting just one boy worthy of the honor. In truth, there were probably at least two, but "co-athletes of the year" seemed a pretty weak-hearted way to kick off what I hope becomes a tradition for this newspaper.

Two Eudora boys stood out. Abel dazzled as a receiver and a defensive back in football, was solid as a guard in basketball, and electric as a leadoff man and centerfielder in baseball. He spent his junior season wowing fans and turning heads with game-changing punt returns, prime-time 3-pointers and blazing outfield speed.

Kent Swanson, meanwhile, was the other Cardinal that stood out in all three sports in which he participated.

Swanson led the way as the quarterback for one of the best seasons in Eudora High School history. He was calm and cool and grabbed a key leadership position when the team needed him most, fresh off losing a mountain of experience in the offseason.

He was a rock in basketball, and a leader again on a baseball team left equally devoid of experience and leaders. And he was a senior, not a prerequisite for the award, but a fact worth at least a few points.

The decision was complicated further by the fact that Abel is the son of our general manager, Theresa. By choosing him, we no doubt leave open to questions of tampering, or of a rigged election.

Don't worry, folks. There was no election. I chose.

Matthew Abel countered Swanson's quarterbacking and leadership with equally important play on both sides of the ball in football. He then earned a few extra points by having been a dynamite special teams player as well.

Abel also scored more per game in basketball, giving him a slight edge there as well.

It still was as close as could be, but in the end, it was Abel not because of his connection to the newspaper, but in spite of it. Say it was rigged all you want, but be sure you watch some game tape first. Abel was good in every sport and mystifying at times in all of them.

Plenty of other Cardinals had great seasons. Obviously Swanson ranked right at the top. Travis Clarke was at least as responsible as Abel or Swanson for the team's run in football, then added a trip to the state wrestling tournament. Austin Hoover, Cody Burns, Joey Chino and Morgan Abel all warranted discussion.

For the final time: it was a very difficult decision.

That's not to say it was easy picking Ballock to represent the girls. Again, it was excellence in three sports that carried the day.

Brittney Graff was great in both cross country and track, but lost points when she didn't go out for a winter sport. Nikki Snider and Erin Kracl were plenty deserving for their role in the volleyball team's stunning Class 4A state championship, but neither again took the floor representing the Cardinals.

Haley Epperson was great in basketball, but an injury limited her in volleyball. Elaina Kouri was irreplaceable on both the basketball and volleyball teams, but didn't participate in the spring. Kendal Abel -- just a sophomore -- stepped into a big role when Epperson was injured on the volleyball team, played plenty of basketball in the winter and was a part of Eudora's second-place 400-meter relay team at the state track meet, but like the rest, it just didn't quite match up to Ballock's year.

The selection of two juniors makes me wonder if this inadvertently puts some sort of pressure or unrealistic expectations on them heading into next season. It makes me wonder if we're now destined to having the same kids win the award two years in a row.

I know it presents an amazing opportunity, however. I spent the last nine months following these kids from game to game, sport to sport, and I was wowed enough by them to name them athletes of the year.

Now everyone has an opportunity to see them at their best, next year in what promises to be two thrilling senior seasons.

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