No euphoria in Eudora
Surely not this time.
When the volleyball season started with preseason practice in mid-August, Tonganoxie was determined to make its first state appearance in about a decade.
On Saturday, the Chieftains were holding a plaque, but once again, it read "runner-up."
With tears streaming down their cheeks, the Chieftains watched as Eudora players and fans formed a frenzied mob on the Eudora High gymnasium floor.
In a three-game substate tournament final match, No. 1 Eudora outlasted No. 2 Tonganoxie, 25-21, 20-25, 25-20.
THS had defeated every other squad in the eight-team field earlier in the season, but one team wanted definite payback after the Chieftains dropped the Cardinals in the Tonganoxie Invitational in September.
THS also defeated Eudora in last year's Class 4A substate semifinals.
"Eudora played a great match," THS co-coach Tiffany Parker said. "They came out aggressively."
Eudora opened with a 4-1 lead and never trailed.
An Ali Pistora kill put the score at 12-8, but EHS responded with an 8-2 run. Trailing 21-12, the Chieftains found their own spark with a 6-0 run, but their late rally couldn't overcome the Cards.
Facing elimination, the Chieftains somehow were more relaxed in the second game. Eudora again scored first, but this eventually was Tonganoxie's game.
The teams had seven ties early in the game, but Tonganoxie started gaining some distance with the score tied at seven.
A Pistora ace put Tonganoxie up, 11-8. Eudora came back and tied the game at 15. With Tonganoxie leading 20-17, Parker called a timeout. A final push gave THS a 25-20 win with a Hannah Heintzelman kill.
And then there was a game three.
Eudora's court was positioned so that the fans sat behind one side of the court.
In the second game, Tonganoxie was on the opposite side, meaning they weren't right in front of a loud Eudora student section.
In game three, THS co-coach Brandon Parker told his player to take the far side of the court if they won the coin toss, but Tonganoxie lost the flip and had to work in front of the home crowd.
With the scored tied at eight, EHS went on a 4-0 run. Eudora eventually increased its lead to six at 17-11. Tonganoxie was as close as three at 22-19, but Eudora closed the game with a 3-1 advantage and punched its ticket for the state tournament, which begins Friday in Salina.
For Tonganoxie, the progress continues to come. Four seasons ago, The Parkers came to Tonganoxie and recorded an 18-16 record.
The win total has climbed ever since.
On Saturday, the team notched its first 30-win season under the Parkers with a semifinal win against Santa Fe Trail. Tonganoxie defeated Baldwin in the quarterfinals.
"We're very proud," Tiffany Parker said. "These seniors were freshman when we started with the program.
"Seeing the program's direction, they've been a part of that."
For the fourth straight season, THS finished one spot shy of the state tournament.
The last three years the team lost to Lansing, but this year, Eudora was Tonganoxie's poison.
After Saturday's losses, coaches and players on the THS varsity team that included seven seniors huddled in a somber hallway behind the EHS gym.
"We've been proud of the people they've become and their character changes," Parker said.
Addie Heim, Laura Jeannin, Madison Weller, Amanda Hart, Ashlee Murphy, Hannah Heintzelman and Kara Coffee all finished their careers at THS.
On Monday, the team was back together, putting away volleyball equipment in the THS gymnasium for the last time this season. Life certainly went on as the players were all smiles Monday afternoon.
But a big loss still hurts, as Murphy mentioned Saturday evening.
"Losing is not just losing a game," she said. "It's a lot more than that."
THS volleyball notes
Reaching a milestone
Tonganoxie's quarterfinal win against Baldwin gave the Parkers their 100th win at THS. After Saturday's matches, the coaching couple now is 101-45 in four seasons at THS.
During warm-ups Saturday, one THS volleyball player didn't look like the others. Senior Amanda Hart was wearing a red and white shirt that read "I AGREE WITH LEE."
Tiffany Parker said the team had "crazy-shirt practice day" last week. Players had to wear a shirt that cost $2 or less.
Hart found hers at a thrift store. Because it was the top shirt at practice, she again wore it for Saturday's matches.
Peppy pep club
A group of Tonganoxie High students made their way to Eudora to cheer on the volleyball squad.
Some in the group have attended plenty of matches this season and have created some new cheers in the process.
"We kind of make it up along the way," said Zach Ditty.
Cheers include chanting "Freshman" for freshman Sami Franiuk and "Pistora," of course, for sophomore Ali Pistora.
Others include "We, we want, a T-town beat down" and "Whoopty-woop," a phrase Sam Mitchell incorporated during the past basketball season.
When Addie Heim scores a point, Kirk Rodell yells: "What time is it?"
The rest of group responds: "Heim time!"
"Kirk leads all the cheers," said John Volk. "He inspires us."
Other fans in the group, which wore red top hats, were Jeff Hughes, Hunter Samuels, Robert Kirch and Josh Putthoff.