Tonganoxie On the road, facing the hometown team, down eight points and a trip to the state tournament on the line.
Not a bad time for the Eudora High volleyball team to find an extra gear.
Already up a game in the championship match of Saturday's Class 4A sub-state tournament, the Cardinals overcame a huge deficit to host Tonganoxie in the second game, winning 17 of the final 22 points to earn a 25-22, 25-21 victory and secure their second straight berth to the state tournament.
"This fall, they came in every practice and wanted to be challenged," Eudora coach Jill Stutler said about her team. "This just builds their character even more.
"They know when to suck it up and put the ball down when we needed it."
The Cardinals (38-4) entered the tournament with the No. 1 seed and wasted little time dispatching No. 8 Bonner Springs and No. 5 De Soto to reach the title match.
The other half of the bracket did not hold true to form. Despite a lowly No. 6 seed, Tonganoxie (16-18) knocked off No. 3 Kansas City Ward in the quarterfinals and, thanks to another first-round upset, took advantage of No. 7 Basehor-Linwood in the semis.
The youthful Chieftains - relying on a core group of two juniors and six sophomores - pushed Eudora throughout the opening game before turning up the scare meter a few extra notches by grabbing a 16-8 lead in the second.
Having already burned an early timeout, Stutler refused to signal for a second break to rally her troops.
"That's just a learning experience for us, that we have to get through it by ourselves," senior setter Kelsey Epperson said. "She's not out their playing."
Stutler's instincts paid off. With the score at 17-10, the Cardinals got serious, scoring five straight points to claw back into the game and whipping the loud contingent of Eudora fans into a frenzy in the upper deck of the Tonganoxie gymnasium.
The Cardinals finally tied the score at 19-19, and at 20-20, tallied five of the final six points to close out the match.
Tonganoxie co-coach Brandon Parker had no concrete explanation for his team's sudden reversal of fortune after finding itself in position to force a decisive third game.
"Volleyball's a game of momentum - the ultimate game of momentum," Parker said. "The same way that we got to the lead on a high ... it can change, and it did.
"There's really no great answer to it. I wish I did have an answer to it."
Instead, Eudora answered another of its three primary goals at the outset of the 2005 season, making it two straight state appearances after a 13-year drought.
"It's just as sweet this time as it was last time," Stutler said.
The Cardinals will open pool play Friday at the Bicentennial Center in Salina.