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After COVID wrecked pre-season practice, Culver is starting to find its way on the court

COURTESY GRAPHIC  - Culver's volleyball squad is hoping to move up the league standings in time for the league tournament.  The Culver Bulldogs got a late start on the volleyball season this year due to Jefferson County being in the extreme risk category.

As a result, the Bulldogs spent the first two weeks of practice with just six players at a time for 45 minutes.

"I think in some ways it set us back," said Culver head coach Gabrielle Williams. "But, in other ways, I thought it was kind of a pleasant surprise."

The Bulldogs found out on Tuesday, March 9 that Jefferson County was moving down to high risk and they were going to have a season after all. Friday, March 12, the team practiced together for the first time, then Saturday, they played their first match of the year after just one regular practice.

The match was a tight one throughout, but the Bulldogs fell 25-22, 18-25, 24-26, 25-11, 15-13 to Western Christian in one of the closest matches in the state this year.

"I think it was good to be back in that grind and to see someone else across the net," Williams said. "But I do think that being in pods in groups of six, and only practicing for 45 minutes when other teams were full on practicing and had several matches under their belt, was a disadvantage, but it was better than nothing."

After a second practice, the Bulldogs were back on the court on Tuesday, March 16, falling to Sheridan 25-19. 25-22, 25-19. After practicing Wednesday, the team was back in action on Thursday, picking up their first win of the season, a 25-13, 17-25, 25-23, 25-22 victory over Delphian.

The Bulldogs won again on Friday, knocking off Colton 25-17, 25-11, 25-12.

Just when it looked like the team had hit their stride, spring break hit. Due to the uncertainty surrounding whether or not there would be a season, several Culver players had plans for spring break and were not in town.

"We have about 20 girls participating in this modified season, and we had just 10 for our games over spring break," Williams said. "I think it relates back to thinking we weren't going to have a season and maybe families being cooped up. We had just four varsity players for those games."

Despite playing shorthanded, the Bulldogs whipped Trinity Lutheran 25-20, 25-11, 25-16 Monday afternoon. Tuesday against North Lake and Central Christian was a different matter. The Bulldogs lost to North Lake 25-12, 25-19, 25-16, then fell later in the afternoon to Central Christian 25-2, 25-7, 25-15.

"I think we were just excited for games, and I hated the idea of canceling when we had players that could and were willing to play, and it was players that don't always get playing time, so it wasn't a full squad, but we were glad we did it," Williams said. "I feel like we are getting better. We played without either of our varsity setters or our JV setter during spring break. Obviously, that's an important position, but people stepped up and kind of made it work. We were playing with mostly freshmen and sophomores, and I was asking an awful lot of them, and I think they rose to the occasion and did the best that I could ask for them."

In fact, Culver has just one senior, Anyla Rico, on their roster.

The Bulldogs got exciting news last week when it was announced that Jefferson County has dropped to low risk. That means that the remainder of the season the Bulldogs can have spectators at their home matches.

Culver hosted Salem Academy on Monday, then close out the regular season today with a home match against Santiam.

"We will have some fans," Williams said. "I'm not sure how many fans, or what the protocol is for that, they are still working on that, but we are going to have some fans, which is exciting."

Following the end of the regular season, Culver will still get at least one more match as the league is holding a single-elimination tournament beginning on Monday, April 5. The number one team in the league will host No. 8, No. 2 will host No. 7, No. 3 will host No. 6, and No. 4 will host No. 5.

Because of their late start, the Bulldogs are currently in sixth place with a 2-2 league record. However, a pair of wins this week could move them up in the standings.

Teams will find out the end of the week who and where they are playing.

"If you win, you play the next day with the championship game being on Wednesday the seventh," Williams said. "We've been having so many games, which is good, but we do need some practices to get back in the swing of things. The Colton match for varsity was the best that we have played for a long time. I feel like we truly played as a team as a unit and we didn't let up at any time."

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