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After beating Gervais at home, Culver struggled at a weekend tourney in St. Paul

ANDY DIECKHOFF/MADRAS PIONEER - Culver junior Brooke Bush, center, led the Bulldogs with nine aces against Gervais, including five in the final set.Culver's new volleyball season got off to a great start last Tuesday when the Bulldogs defeated Gervais by a score of 3-1. Junior Brooke Bush led the way for CHS with nine aces, including five in the final set, to help the team jump out to a 1-0 record. The final set scores were 20-25, 25-19, 25-16, 25-19.

The team got off to a late start this season due to being placed on a two-week pause due to COVID-19 protocols. The delay forced the team to miss preseason tournaments in Heppner and Warrenton, so the contest against Gervais doubled as both their season opener and the first game in the Tri-River Conference.

It took Culver a little while to shake off that rust, as they dropped the opening set to the Cougars. The teams traded points back and forth throughout the set, but Gervais took advantage of a few net violations by the Bulldogs' middle blockers and pulled away late.

ANDY DIECKHOFF/MADRAS PIONEER - Culver's Shanti Rosales, center, had a pair of aces late in the third set that helped the Bulldogs grab momentum.After levelling things up with a win in the second set, Culver jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead in the critical third set. The Cougars clawed back just as quickly, tying the game at 9-9 before the Bulldogs went on another strong run, scoring 11 of the next 14 points. After a few aces from junior Shanti Rosales, Culver sealed the deal with a block from junior Kayden Leeann to win the set.

The fourth set started off with a flourish as Culver junior Brooke Bush went for four consecutive aces, forcing the Gervais bench to call timeout. The break served to slow down some of the momentum that Culver had built, with the Cougars fighting their way back to another 9-9 tie. With the score tied at 13 apiece, the Bulldogs finally found an opening, scoring five straight points on senior libero Hail Soderstrom's service to force another timeout for Gervais. An emphatic kill by junior Hensley Wachter set the stage for Culver to finish the fourth set the way it started — with a Brooke Bush ace, her ninth of the night.

Over the weekend, the Bulldogs traveled west for the St. Paul Tournament, where they participated in pool play against host St. Paul, Damascus Christian and Dufur. The event, which consisted of three two-set matches, was Culver's first taste of volleyball on the road. The Bulldogs struggled, falling to St. Paul (14-25, 18-25) and Damascus Christian (21-25, 20-25) before splitting with Dufur (25-16, 22-25).

"We were a little up and down," said Culver head coach Alex Carlson, who is also the school's athletic director. "The consistency wasn't where we'd like it to be. We had some silly errors — we were in the net too much. There are some things we need to learn from."

Carlson was quick to remind that his team's season is still in its infancy.

"We're two weeks behind everyone," he noted. "We're going to go through those things. It's this team's first time waking up at 5 a.m. and getting on the bus for a weekend tournament. We're gonna have growing pains, but we still expect results."

"We're talented enough to compete with these teams," Carlson continued. "There's a learning curve that we're going to experience. There's only one way to learn how to travel and do a road trip, and that's to go through it. We have a ton of travel this week, so hopefully we can use the lessons to get stronger."

The Bulldogs will be on the road throughout the week as they continue Tri-River Conference play with games against Kennedy (Sept. 14, 5:30 p.m.) and Santiam (Sept. 16, 5:30 p.m.). The team will also travel to the North Powder Tournament over the weekend at Powder Valley High School.

"We're excited for these challenges," Carlson said. "It's obviously going to be difficult, but after last season, you actually appreciate the fact that you get to go play a tough league opponent on the road. You didn't get to do that last year."

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