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After 5-0 start to league play, Bulldogs drop matches to Sheridan and Salem Academy

PMG PHOTO: LON AUSTIN - Culver senior Lucy Louden led the team with four aces against Salem Academy on Monday.The Culver Bulldog volleyball team went into their Thursday match at Sheridan riding high.

After all, the Bulldogs had a 5-0 league record and a 7-5 overall mark.

However, Sheridan did not go as the Bulldogs had hoped.

"It's new for me as a coach learning the amount of travel," said Culver athletic director and head volleyball coach Alex Carlson. "There has never been a time when I have lived in Culver when I said, 'I'm going to go buy lunch at the coast and then drive back today.' That's pretty much where we were, about 20 minutes from the coast when we get to Sheridan. It's like, 'Holy cow, we've been driving a long ways.'"

"So, we've got to learn how to handle that travel and how to travel on school days," Carlson continued. "All those things are new to us. We have got to get better at that, so we respond on the road."

Although the Bulldogs played well at times, they were inconsistent and fell in straight sets, 25-20, 25-22, 25-17 to Sheridan. The loss left the Bulldogs in a tie with Sheridan for second place in the Tri-River Conference.

Then, Monday the Bulldogs had the unenviable task of playing second-ranked Salem Academy at home. Culver came up short in the match, but Carlson was pleased with the team's performance in a 25-23, 25-15, 31-29 loss to Salem Academy.

"You have to just have your hats off to what a great team we played tonight," Carlson said. "Because they earned this victory. The big thing we talked about as a team is we have to make them earn everything they get, and I feel like we did that tonight."

The Bulldogs got off to a great start in set one, jumping out to a 4-0 lead. Salem Academy finally tied the set 13-13 and eventually built a four point lead. However, Culver came storming back and regained the lead, 21-20 on a kill by Hensley Watcher. Culver still led 23-22, but Salem Academy scored the final three points of the set to win 25-23.

Salem Academy rolled to a 6-0 lead to start set two and eventually pushed the lead to 12-3, but the Bulldogs fought their way back into the set, closing to within five points at 14-9 on a kill by Emma Richards. However, that was as close as the Bulldogs would get as Salem Academy pulled away to win the set by 10.

The Crusaders jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead to start the third set, but once again the Bulldogs battled back — this time, by taking a 7-6 lead on a kill by Lucy Louden and eventually running out to a 19-13 advantage. The Bulldogs were up 20-16 when Salem Academy made a late run. The Crusaders scored six straight points to lead 22-20.

Following a Culver timeout, the Bulldogs found a way to battle back, taking a 23-22 lead on a block by Kayden Leeann. From that point on the two teams slugged it out, with Culver holding a 29-28 lead, before the Crusaders once again scored the final three points to take the set and the match.

"We are disappointed in ways, but we feel like there is a lot we can build off of this match," Carlson said. "That is what we talked about as a team right now is what we are doing today, what we were doing in the lead up to the match, that had this type of focus, that had this type of mentality. That made us successful and against other teams we will be getting wins if we play like this."

"These are huge building blocks," Carlson continued. "It's great film to look at and say, 'Hey, this is where we can be successful.'"

Watcher led the Bulldogs in kills on Monday with eight, while Leeann finished with four blocks for the Bulldogs and Louden led all players in aces with four.

"We went out competing," said Louden. "That was our mantra: to fight the whole entire time, no matter what. I couldn't have asked for a better senior season with a new coach and everything, it's been awesome."

"The biggest thing I am happy about is at the end, we weren't tentative," Carlson added. "They ended up winning the game, not because we were worried about 'Oh, we might hit into the net.' We were taking our swings still. We were serving the way we wanted to serve, and they just happened to beat us. We will take that because the mentality was there."

"It's disappointing we lost," Carlson added, "but there is way too much good and way too much to be happy about. To have kids back here playing in the gym is an awesome thing, and I am very proud of that."

With the loss the Bulldogs fell to 5-2 in league play and 7-7 overall, while Salem Academy improved to 8-0 in league and 17-2 overall.

Culver is back on the road on Wednesday when they travel to Gervais (4-10, 3-4 Tri-River) for a 5 p.m. match. Carlson added that he likes the schedule that the Bulldogs have for the remainder of the season.

"The way the league is split up this year," noted the coach, "we feel really good that if we do the things we should down the stretch, then we should have a home playoff match and hopefully get another shot at Salem Academy."

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