Track success caps breakout year for Ballock
The medals are great and the winning is wonderful. The boost in confidence is inspiring, the attention from college coaches humbling.
With all those things considered, Emily Ballock -- the Eudora News' selection as the 2007 female athlete of the year -- didn't have a problem picking out a favorite moment from the average track meet.
It just didn't involve any of the aforementioned easy ones.
"It's really nice when I break away," said Ballock, who recently capped her junior year with a third consecutive state championship in the 300-meter hurdles. "When I break away from everyone else, I can't hear them. I can't hear their footsteps or their breathing, so I can focus more."
It's that focus that pushed Ballock above and so often beyond her peers throughout the nine-month high school sports season.
No matter the sport, Ballock made a big difference. It was battling through a nagging injury in a critical cross country race in the fall. It was helping the girls basketball team exceed even its own expectations with a run to the sub-state final game in the winter, and it was powering the Cardinal track team by medaling in four events at last month's state track meet.
"Every coach thinks their sport deserves the most time, but I try to balance them all," Ballock said. "Luckily two of them were running sports, so training for one helped in the other, and basketball, I could never stop playing basketball. I love it."
Ballock was never more spectacular than she was on the track, where she was the key ingredient in the Eudora girls team's second consecutive second-place finish in Class 4A.
She was point worthy in the 200, placing seventh, and she was good in the 100 hurdles, finishing fourth. She didn't shine until the 1,600 relay, and of course her signature event, the 300 hurdles, however.
One word -- 'intense' -- goes further to describe a Ballock-anchored 1,600 relay than 1,000 other words, and maybe even a few pictures, might.
She took the baton at state with a sprint. It wasn't just the typical quick start. It was a mad break from the handoff, the kind that coins the cliche "shot out of a cannon."
Then the harried spurt toward the first turn quickly gave way to a more sleek and refined stride.
'Intense' and 'harried' are words that have no place describing Ballock's 300 hurdles race. Substitute in 'effortless' or 'streamlined' and one can come much closer.
She usually makes up the stagger in the first 100 meters, then strains to separate, to gain that cushion where she can't even hear the other runners.
"When she came in as a freshman, she had never run the hurdles before," Eudora track coach Phil Katzenmeier said. "I told her she could be a good sprinter, but she'd be a great hurdler, and she bought into that and put in the time and has made herself a great hurdler.
"She can run anything from the 100 to the 800 and in the middle is where she's at her best."
Simply put, she makes it look easy.
Everything wasn't easy, however, and it was that, as much as the field-obliterating runs at the state track meet that set Ballock apart. She was neither the best runner on the cross country team, nor the best player on the basketball team, but Ballock was key in both squads' achievements in the last year.
Ballock was the third Eudora finisher in the regional cross country meet, rebounding after tendonitis in her knee kept her off the course through much of the fall. The squad finished the season strong and was just good enough to earn its fifth consecutive team bid to the state cross country meet.
In basketball season, Ballock helped turn around what started out as a miserable season. After Eudora dropped its first two games at home, then hit another skid late in the season, it was at its best in the sub-state tournament. Ballock was the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 9.9 points per game, and she was third in rebounds, grabbing 100 over the season. The consummate point guard, she also led the team in steals and assists.
When the season was finally over, the underdog Cardinals had fought their way into the sub-state championship game and given top-seed Tonganoxie all it could handle.
"We had lost a lot in a row, but we decided to turn it around," Ballock said. "The girls were stepping up and hitting shots, just playing confident. Once we got over the fact we were young, we started playing better and we made that run to the sub-state final."
Life might get a little easier for Ballock in the fall. She played volleyball as a freshman, then ran cross country each of the last two years, but decided to opt out for her senior season.
Telling her coach, Paul Boone, was difficult she said, but with another basketball season on the horizon and a collegiate future on the track, she didn't want to risk any more trouble with the knee.
As for college, she said it's a decision that's still up in the air. She definitely wants to run track and she's not hung up on staying near home or in the state.
With a whole year to figure it out -- not to mention a year to cut time, push for state and rack up records -- she has nothing to worry about.
"Track is definitely my favorite sport," Ballock said. "I love the atmosphere and the competition. It's a team sport, but it's also an individual sport and I really like that aspect of it.
"And I like pushing myself. I like to see how much I have."