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Behind head coach T.J. Foltz's 'in-your-face' style of play, the Bulldogs picked up their first victory since 2019.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Culver ninth-grader Dania Correa was one of many Bulldogs to record multiple steals in the season opener against Mannahouse Christian Academy, thanks to head coach T.J. Foltz's preference for pressure defense.When your team has only won a grand total of two games over the past two seasons, every victory is sweet.

Culver girls basketball coach T.J. Foltz knows that all too well, as his Bulldogs have amassed a combined record of 2-31 over his first two season at the helm. Thankfully for Foltz and the team, they did not have to wait long to get win No. 1 on the new season.

The Bulldogs (1-1) won once and lost once at the Sherman County Invitational this past weekend. While the squad impressed in both games, they were able to do more than that in the opener against Mannahouse Christian Academy, holding the Lions off for a 38-33 victory.

"It's been a long time since we won a basketball game," said Foltz after the team's season-opening win over Mannahouse. "It showed the hard work and the dedication that these girls have put in."

That hard work was most evident on the defensive end of the floor, where the Bulldogs forced Mannahouse into turnovers early and often, thanks to Foltz's penchant for playing pressure defense.

"I really liked the way we put pressure on the ball," said Foltz.

This style of play, which involves guarding the ball closely all the way from the inbounds pass to the final shot of the possesion, is how Foltz learned to play the game. That said, he understands that it might be a difficult approach for some of his younger, more inexperienced players.

"I don't know how much they trapped and pressed when they played in middle school," the coach said, referring to his freshman and sophomore players who saw a lot of action. "Three players who played a lot of minutes, they're coming straight from middle school. It's a completely different game. The speed's different. Everything's different."

Pressure defense like the one that Culver employs has its downsides, of course. Every time the squad double- or triple-teams the opposing ball-carrier, at least one player is being left open. It is a high-risk, high-reward brand of basketball.

"That's the kind of style I like to play," said Foltz. "It's just a matter of when we can get into those situations. There are teams in our league that we're not going to be able to do that to. But when we can take advantage, we'll try to take advantage."

In last Friday's opener, they were able to do just that.

Gracie Mendoza, Dania Correa, Jocelyn Camacho and Kailee Macy were among the Bulldogs to snatch the ball away from the Lions on multiple occasions. While Mendoza is a senior, Macy is a sophomore and both Camacho and Correa are first-year players.

"I felt like it was really good," said Mendoza. "I was excited after we won. I felt like we could've done a little better — more talking — but I felt like it was really good. I was really excited."

Mendoza says she enjoys playing this kind of up-tempo style of play with a strong focus on defense.

"I feel like it pushes us more to get better and to be stronger with the ball."

Meanwhile, fellow freshman Abril Gonzalez shined on the offensive end in her Culver debut. The lithe wing knocked down three 3-pointers during the Bulldogs' win, including some clutch shots that kept the Lions at bay.

Senior guard Sierra Bautista was limited to just five points in the first game after getting into foul trouble early in the game.

"Even though we had a lot of fouls, I think some of those, in other places, aren't going to be called. I think down the road, we'll learn to move our feet and little more, to not stick our hand in there and to not get those fouls."

"I think we're in the right place at the right time," added Foltz. "We're starting to figure it out."

Following the season-opening win, Culver faced off with Pilot Rock in the second round of the tournament at Sherman County High School in Moro. The Bulldogs lost that matchup 43-38, but they kept it close throughout.

"It was a great game," said Culver athletic director Alex Carlson, who was in attendance by virtue of coaching the Culver boys team in the same event. "They held the lead at halftime, and they're just playing really hard and playing together. It's exciting to see the process that everybody is making."

Culver continues its season this weekend with a trip to Pendleton for the 2A Preview event. The Bulldogs are scheduled to square off with Stanfield at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 10, at the Pendleton Convention Center. Then, the team takes on Heppner at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 11. Following those games, Culver opens Tri-River play on Dec. 17 against Sheridan.

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