Faces new and old propel Cardinal cross country squad
Supposedly ravaged by graduation, the Eudora cross country team made a bold statement Thursday in its first meet of the season.
It's still here.
Competing for the first time without its top three individual runners from a year ago, both the boys and the girls teams had races to remember. The girls finished third in a tough field while the boys were sixth thanks to three separate runners finishing in the race's top 15 spots.
"We are happy," Eudora coach Paul Boone said. "The kids really applied what we worked on and I'm happy for them. They really pulled together."
The day's biggest surprise came in the form of senior Emily Ballock.
Not only was it a surprise that the senior all-sport phenom was there. It was a surprise how well she ran -- even to Ballock herself.
Ballock's third season on the trail was a last-minute addition to her schedule. She initially opted out of cross country after injuries limited her effectiveness a year ago and potentially threatened her basketball and track seasons.
Instead, she chose to cheerlead through the fall.
The closer everything came, the more she changed her mind, however, until finally she was given permission by the school board to participate in two fall activities -- cheerleading and cross country.
"I pretty much took all of June off, then in July started running," Ballock said. "I started feeling good, so I asked if I could do both running and cheerleading."
The decision came just in time for the Cardinals, and for Ballock. A middle-of-the-pack runner as a sophomore, her injuries limited her to similar results last season. Now fully healthy, Ballock stretched her legs like she had never done on a cross country course.
She held back in the middle early, but dashed toward the front in the four-kilometer race's waning stretches, overtaking most of the leading runners and finally settling into a dual with De Soto sophomore Carly Stanley.
Stanley, seventh at last year's Class 4A state meet, prevailed, holding the charging senior off by five seconds. Still, for Ballock there was no defeat to be had.
"I was really surprised. I didn't know how to start," said Ballock, who capped her return with a time of 16 minutes, 54 seconds. "I was back, then I started to pick people off and I realized I was in the front."
The girls also got strong performances from the top to the bottom of the roster.
Junior Liz Hoese was 18th in 17:59 and senior Lauren Colman was 22nd. Sophomore Molly Brunton and junior Bre Miller finished one second apart in 27th and 28th places, respectively.
"Liz Hoese prepared all summer to step up and lead the team. She and Bre Miller, with Emily and add Lauren Colman, they're really close," Boone said. "They're great to be around and great leaders. They're always picking other kids up and just what you'd like in a group of people to be around."
The boys brought plenty of surprises of their own.
With the only two boys to qualify for state last season lost to graduation, a new pack of front-runners emerged in freshman Juan Ramirez and Ivan Espinosa.
Like Ballock, Ramirez held himself in check early in the race and made his break toward the end. It netted him a seventh-place finish and a time of 18:23.
Espinosa wasn't far off, finishing 13th in the 58-runner field with a time of 18:55.
"Juan ran really well," Boone said. "He was in 26th or 27th place and he moved up. He's really enjoyable to work with. He had a giant PR today.
"He's a guy who's just starting to scratch the surface."
There's plenty of work left, Boone said. The squad packs up for one of its toughest races of the season Saturday, heading to Wamego.
"We're not celebrating. No one's throwing a big party and we know it's just a step," Boone said. "We enjoy being here. We know it's tough, but we really try to focus on ourselves.
"In this race, we just did what we practiced and I was pleased from top to bottom, from our freshmen to our varsity runners. They just took what we did and applied it."