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Team bonding, fundamentals, focus for new, young, Culver Bulldog volleyball team.

STEELE HAUGEN - Senior Janae Rhen (center),  junior Anyla Rico (left)  and sophomore Lucy Louden (right) run during the Lady Dawgs' practice. The two will be big pieces in this year's Culver volleyball sucess.
The Culver Lady Dawg volleyball program will look to find success with a new group of players this season.

"I am really excited," head coach Gabrielle Alley said. "We had a lot of new faces again; we are a really young team, but we have a ton of potential. The girls are putting in the work, so I am hopeful for a good season. We have definitely put an emphasis on team bonding and getting back to basic fundamentals, since we have such a young group."

"For the returners, last season didn't quite end the way we wanted it to and so I think we are starting really hungry and ready to do bigger, better things this year," she said. "Our Warrenton (tournament) trip is a big team bonding trip because we stay two nights and have a lot of activities planned on the way over. We have lots of things throughout the season and have a long long away trips on the bus, which will also help with bonding."

Last volleyball season, under first-year coach Alley, Culver won its first 15 games of the season and ended with a 24-7 record. But the season ended with a sour taste in their mouths, when they lost to a highly ranked Kennedy team in league playoffs and then had a first-round state playoff exit against Glide, seeing their season come to an end.

The Lady Dawgs finished league with a 14-2 record and were ranked No. 8 heading into the postseason. Culver lost first-team Tri-River Conference athletes Irma Retano and Maddie Miller to graduation.

"We are hopeful to compete with Kennedy," Alley said. "We do not want to take anyone in our league for granted, but we know Kennedy is a team that we are hungry to play against this year. The team has lots of tournaments and using those tournaments a lot to help with our seedings. When the girls are hustling and having fun, working that is when we play our best volleyball. That is a big goal: go back to basics and have fun."

STEELE HAUGEN - Head Culver volleyball coach Gabrielle Alley  coaches up varsity returner Claire Bender during the team';s first week of practice.
Key returners for the Bulldogs this season will be senior libero Bridget Lopez and junior standout Claire Bender. Lopez earned second-team honors and Bender third-team honors last year.

"Well, you will definitely be able to see who the leaders are and who can push the others to improve," Bender said. "We have to push the others to bring out their best and push people to fight for their spots."

Lopez ended the season with 20 aces and a 2.12 serve-receive average, while Bender led the team in aces with 52. She also has 61 kills, 67 digs, two blocks and a 2.18 serve-receive average. Other key players this upcoming season will be senior Janae Rhen and sophomore Lucy Louden.

"The team is fresh and we have a lot of younger classmen, who aren't seasoned per say, but that also leaves a lot of room for growth," Rhen said. "Progressing through the season will be interesting to see because this group has a lot of potential. The goal is always state, every year. We are working with what we have, but had a similar group when I first played varsity and we were second in state. So state is really always the goal."

The Culver Lady Dawgs start the season with a tournament at Warrenton High School Aug. 31. Their first home game of the year is Sept. 9, against Western Christian at 5:30 p.m.

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