The Fly Route
It felt like the end of an era Saturday at the sub-state volleyball tournament, Eudora's gilded age coming to an end with the sub-state championship loss to the powerful St. James Academy.
The Cardinals will graduate its best hitter, Nikki Snider, the ever-present Elaina Kouri and defensive stalwart Kayci Vickers.
All three were integral parts of the backbone of last season's state championship team, and when combined with last year's graduation of uber-hitter Erin Kracl, combine to make a seemingly irreplaceable source of power, presence and leadership.
As Eudora lost its final match, falling 25-9, 25-16 to St. James, it was obvious the team didn't quite have the power it did last year. In the 2006 sub-state title match, Eudora lost the first match, but eventually prevailed by simply out muscling the Thunder.
Saturday it couldn't.
Proclaiming the Cardinal volleyball team dead is a bit ridiculous, however, and that it felt like the page was being turned actually says a lot about the program.
First, now that the state-streak has been halted at three trips -- Wow, what a streak. To be the dominant team in the region and one of the very best teams in the state for that stretch is a testament not just to Kracl, Snider or any of the other Cardinals that repeatedly appeared photographed on these pages or splashed across these headlines. It's a testament to every player that took the court. Eudora showed repeatedly over the three years that it was a team deeper than two players by serving accurately, setting repeatedly and digging continuously.
Second -- end of an era? That's no doubt exaggerating.
Granted I didn't study this year's junior varsity squad to see who's on tap to replace Eudora's graduates, but 2008 could be a break in the power volleyball that was Eudora's signature.
There's plenty of muscle and experience remaining to make the Cardinals effective and dangerous -- state tournament dangerous -- next season.
Haley Epperson has all the qualities necessary to be both a leader and a game-changing hitter. She played a huge role this season that didn't leave much to step up to, still, she's clearly capable of being the standard bearer.
Eudora's immensely talented junior class (remember last school year's basketball and track seasons?) will have every opportunity to take more ownership, too.
Mariah Webb, another key player in the state championship, set the ball efficiently all day Saturday, and should only grow into the all-important role as a senior. Kendal Abel has also logged plenty of points over the last several seasons and should be ready for even more as a senior.
It all will amount to a sickeningly experienced Cardinal team next season when experience will mean more than anything. With what should be a slight decrease in size and power -- Eudora will graduate its only two players 5-foot-10 or taller -- the Cardinals will thrive with creativeness and tough play.
Having an experienced setter, reliable team leaders and a stout defense, all which the team should return in droves, will be even more important.
Finally even Saturday's results might not actually signal the end of the Eudora era.
St. James was ridiculously good. It returned everyone from the team Eudora beat last season. For years now teams have glanced at their sub-state pairings and grimaced understandably when they were in Eudora's tournament.
Eudora is equally justified in grimacing when slotted with St. James, who of course will likely return its entire team again next season.
Had the Cardinals been siphoned off to another region, they could well have kept their state streak intact.
Was Saturday the end of an era? Maybe in a way, but it's not the end of a solid and consistent Eudora volleyball program, and it's no doubt not the end of winning seasons, tournament titles and crazy postseason celebrations.