Girls keep streak alive, finish third
They are all different, Eudora cross country coach Paul Boone said -- especially this one.
The Eudora girls cross country team earned its fifth consecutive bid to the Class 4A state championships Saturday, finishing third in its 13-team regional.
"This is just a tremendous feeling because you've had kids that have been in the shadows," Boone said Saturday soon after it became apparent his squad would be making the trip yet again.
The main shadow the team emerged from Saturday was that of superstar Brittney Graff, who won a 4A individual title as a junior and finished second last year.
Not that the team is happy to be rid of the front-running Graff, now playing her trade at Pittsburg State.
It's plenty happy to have proven it's still state-worthy without her, though.
"We don't have that leader we've always had," Ballock said. "We have some new girls who haven't been able to experience it, so this will be fun.
"We ran well and stayed positive. We never thought for a second we wouldn't have a chance tofight for that third spot."
Ballock led the Cardinals across the four-kilometer course, located south of Ottawa and one of the most difficult the team has encountered this season.
The trail's calling card is a steep slope that features both the start and the finish. From its crest fans can watch as the runners toil far below, then gather to cheer as they try with all their might to climb back to the top.
They all made it Saturday, but even the leaders were often reduced to an arm-pumping, barely-moving frenzy.
"I really ran conservative early, then started picking them off," Ballock said. "I felt strong and tried to hang on at the finish."
Ballock was the only Eudora runner who didn't make the Monday trip to practice on the course. What conspiring she was able to do with teammates before hand in regards to strategy paid off, however.
She was seventh in the race, finishing in 16 minutes, 58 seconds.
"I felt really good, really strong," Ballock said. "I stayed with the girls and ran a good race.
"I'm very excited. This was the best finish I've ever had at a regional meet."
Senior Lauren Colman and junior Liz Hoese weren't far behind, finishing 20th and 22nd at 17:48 and 17:55 respectively, and freshman Kaya Reimann was 26th in 18:04.
The trio formed the nucleolus that allowed the Cardinals to score low enough to make the return to state possible.
"Our girls ran pretty well in the middle, Liz and Lauren and Kia," Boone said. "Those three bunched it up and really ran well."
Eudora -- also aided by Bre Miller in 46th, Stephanie Hoese in 50th and Molly Brunton in 60th -- finished with 108 points. It was well back of defending Class 4A champion De Soto, second place with 44 and regional champ Baldwin, with 22, but safely in front of Tonganoxie, Louisburg and Paola, the three other teams that threatened to knock Eudora off.
The Chieftains came the closest to denying the Cardinals, finishing with 142 points.
"These kids see themselves in a little different light now," Boone said of the team.
Liz Hoese and Colman in particular rose this season to help fill the gap Graff left, and that showed Saturday on the hills of Ottawa, Boone said.
" (Assistant coach Dan) Kuhlman and I have seen them in this light since last spring. They've said "Hey, we're stepping up, taking leadership, this is our team,'" Boone said. "Emily's done a nice job blending into that too because she wasn't involved in that over the summer and we're sharing her with cheerleading.
"They get along well together and I'm happy for them."