Archive for Thursday, November 8, 2007

End doesn’t ruin ‘07 for Cards

November 8, 2007

Sometimes anything less than the best just doesn't seem good enough.

That may sum up the Eudora Cardinals volleyball team's feelings immediately after its season ending loss to St. James, but a little time away has enabled Eudora coach Jill Stutler to shed some positive light on a good season.

"Finishing 30-10, league champs, and sub-state runners-up, it's a very successful season," Stutler said. "There's a lot of teams that would give anything to have that kind of success."

The Cardinals started off on a role in the regular season, winning seven consecutive matches. After that, though, they got tripped up at the Tonganoxie Invitational Tournament, finishing fifth.

Eudora picked up third place finishes in tournaments at Wellsville and De Soto, but remained confident in its defense of the 2006 Class 4A state championship late in the season, thanks in large part to the core that returned in 2007. Gone was superstar Erin Kracl, who went on to play volleyball at South Florida, but Nikki Snider had her best season, and fellow seniors Elaina Kouri and Kayci Vickers also packed years of high-pressure tournament experience.

"They finished their careers 144-30 with three state appearances, a state championship and two league titles," Stutler said. "They've been a core group for us the last several years, and we're going to really hate to see them leave."

She also noted how the different seniors adapted to step in and fill a role for their senior year.

"Each one of them played a huge role. Everybody knew Nikki was our big gun, but defensively Kayci provided a spark when we needed it and Elaina's overall play, those were huge components to our success," Stutler said.

The season ended in disappointment as the squad failed to qualify for the state tournament for the first time in four years. It wasn't a season without highlights, however, a prominent one coming with the new Frontier League tournament.

The league shrank from 13 teams to eight in 2007, allowing for a league tournament for the first time.

Eudora took advantage and claimed the title with a big victory over Ottawa, claiming revenge after falling to the Cyclones earlier in the day.

"They (Ottawa) came out on fire and dominated the first part of the game. The second part of the game (we) just battled and got back in it," Stutler said. "That just signifies how they are. They've got a lot of fight in them."

St. James kept its then-perfect season alive by beating Eudora in the sub-state championship.

It was a tough sub-state, as St. James was ranked first in 4A all season, only to be upset in the state championship.

"You can always play the what-ifs, but that's not the cards we were dealt," said Stutler of having to go through the St. James to advance. "We move forward, and my younger kids need to look at this as a challenge."

Those younger kids include Haley Epperson, Mariah Webb and Kendall Abel.

Epperson returns after leading the team in blocks with 67, and she was second in kills with 237, behind Snider, who had 475 kills this year, second all-time in kills in a season.

Snider received first team all-league honors, while Vickers received second team. Returning players Webb and Epperson both garnered honorable mention all-league honors.

"Haley is going to have to step up and be a leader for us and fill the hole Nikki leaves," Stutler said. "Then Kendall and Mariah are just two kids who have worked really hard to improve. We need major leadership out of them, to say, 'this is how it's gonna be and this is what we need to do."

Looking forward, she expects her team to play with the same intensity, that same fire, that has produced a winning program. She said just like the football program, other teams know that every time they play a Eudora team it's going to be a battle.

Stutler said she's convinced her returning players will handle both the highs and lows of 2007 in the right manner -- by returning in 2008 with the same goals in mind, no matter what sub-state St. James is dropped in.

"We'll have a chip on our shoulder. We'll have that same kind of conversation throughout the next 10 months of 'We've got to prepare ourselves for when we see them again, because we want to see them again,'" she said.

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