Late-season surge could carry into new year
This review of the Eudora girls basketball team's season is obligated to start with the team's final game, a 46-34 loss to Tonganoxie in the sub-state final. It's obligated to mention that the team was sad afterward, that the girls came to win, they left it all on the court and were crushed to come up short.
For good measure we'll throw in that Tonganoxie turned out to be one of the best teams in the state, finishing fourth in the Class 4A state basketball tournament, and it was led by one of the state's best players in senior Ali Pistora.
But once it's been established that the Eudora Cardinals didn't travel to that final sub-state in search of a moral victory, in search of something that win-or-lose could keep them excited all summer long, it's safe to admit that's exactly what they came away with.
Though the team tried desperately to carry its season on another week, it fell within eyesight of the prize and showed all the appropriate emotion afterward, there's no denying that the Cardinals ability to finish an up-and-down campaign on a decided "up" allowed them to find a little solace.
"It's huge," Eudora coach Ryan Luke said. "The kids kind of forgot about the times in our season where we struggled a little bit, but they did learn lessons from it. Them now understanding what it takes to win and hitting it the way they did has generated a lot of excitement for next season."
The term "up and down" scarcely does the 2006-2007 Cardinals justice. They started the season on a mighty down. Having lost the majority of points and experience from the Luke's initial season as Eudora coach, the Cardinals stumbled in the first two games of their season-opening home tournament and found themselves trying to salvage seventh place.
Salvage they did. Eudora routed Kansas City-Turner, won its next two games and six of the next seven. The Cardinals sat at 7-3 after knocking off Atchison in the opening round of the Tonganoxie Invitational.
Cue the "down" swing.
Eudora lost to Lansing, then a team it had already beat, Silver Lake, at Tonganoxie and appeared to have lost its magical touch. The Cards fell at home to Baldwin and Ottawa, then late to Louisburg and Wellsville. In all, the team lost eight of its final 10 regular season games, picking up wins only against Frontier League cellar-dwellers Prairie View and Osawatomie.
And finally, the final "up."
Sixth-seeded Eudora outlasted No. 3 Bishop Ward 55-48 in the first round of the sub-state tournament, then avenged the earlier loss to Baldwin, knocking off the second-seeded Bulldogs 42-30 to set up the Tonganoxie finale. Eudora had its chances, sat tied late in the second quarter and missed on several opportunities to take a lead in the third before finally giving way to an onslaught of Chieftain free throws in the fourth.
"Truthfully, I've seen this potential," Luke said. "I thought we played with one of the top teams at state and we can see how close we are."
The twinkle in the Cardinals' eyes following the loss to Tonganoxie came from two sources. First, the run itself defied what seemed possible during the team's 2-8 slide. Second, it came in large part on the backs of young players who could make the Cardinals one of the top teams in the area next winter.
Eudora will lose just one varsity senior. It's a big loss -- Allison Braden emerged as the team's top low post during the season and was a key both offensively and defensively. But even Braden saw through the tears in Tonganoxie to a bright future for her teammates.
"I see a lot of potential," Braden said. "They need a lot of work in the offseason, but they can be very good next year."
Eudora will return a potential star in sophomore Haley Epperson. It has a point guard and scoring threat in junior Emily Ballock and other grizzled and sure-handed veterans with junior Elaina Kouri and sophomores Bailey Scott and Kendal Abel. Sophomore guard Rachel Pyle played some of the best basketball of her season at sub-state, scoring 18 points in the final two games at sub-state.
"Skill wise, we have great kids that have a lot of skill for their age," Luke said. "It's just understanding their roles for the team, understanding playing together, figuring each other out and understanding what it takes to be a top team at state."