The Bulldogs were unable to take a set from the Dragons in the first round of the playoffs.

PMG FILE PHOTO - No. 14 Culver fell to No. 3 Monroe, 25-14, 25-12, 25-12, in the opening round of the 2A Volleyball State Championship over the weekend.After a fantastic late-season run to make the 2A Volleyball State Championship, No. 14 Culver was ousted from the tournament in the first round against No. 3 Monroe (20-3, 14-0). The Dragons prevailed on their home court, winning the three-setter 25-14, 25-12, 25-12, to advance to the quarterfinals.

During the match in Monroe, the Bulldogs went down early against a Dragon team that defended very well and was precise in its attacks. After dropping the first two sets, Culver managed to regroup in third and gave Monroe a run for their money.

Midway through the third set, with the score at 13-10 in favor of Monroe, senior Emma Richards and junior Kayden Bennington got tangled up while tracking a ball in midair. The collision sidelined Bennington — Culver's primary middle blocker and its tallest player at 6-foot-1 — for the remainder of the match.

The Dragons seized the moment coming out of the injury timeout, reeling off six straight points and putting the match out of arm's reach. Monroe eventually won the set 25-12, knocking the Bulldogs out of the state tournament.

Under first-year head coach Alex Carlson, Culver (12-10, 9-3) got back to the state tournament for the first time since 2018. For the team's seniors — Lindsey Lamb, Lucy Louden, Emma Richards, Sage Scott and Hali-Ann Soderstrom — it was the second time they had seen Culver reach the postseason. When those seniors were ninth-graders, the Bulldogs qualified for state and fell to Glide in the first round.

Even though the team will not be hoisting the championship trophy this season, some of the team's most important players will be returning next year.

Bennington is a rising star in the middle, while fellow juniors Brooke Bush, Shanti Rosales and Hensley Wachter all shined throughout the season. Rosales was deployed as a not-so-secret weapon, rotating in as one of the team's best servers. Another ace in the service game, Bush was also fantastic in her role as setter — which often resulted in thunderous kills from the strong, impassioned Wachter. Other young talent will undoubtedly come to the fore as this year's batch of seniors rotate off the court one last time.

For a program that became accustomed to sustained success, this quick trip to the playoffs was just the first step in getting back to the ultimate promised land: the state championship game.

Judging by how quickly Carlson and the coaching staff helped get the team back to the postseason, the Bulldogs will be there sooner rather than later.

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