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The Bulldogs start early at the East vs. West tourney at Heppner, finish 2-1; face Willamina to open home schedule on Monday

PIONEER FILE PHOTO  - The Bulldogs are showcasing great senior leadership so far this season, says coach Alex Carlson, including the play of Hensley Wachter, bumping a shot from last season. A hot gym and tough competition met the Culver Bulldog volleyball team Sept. 3 when they kicked off their season at the six-team East vs. West tournament in Heppner.

They came back from it with a 2-1 record, beating their host in an early morning match, then losing a tough five-setter against Grant Union, then capping the day with a 3-1 win over Weston-McEwen.

In the first game, starting at 9 a.m., Culver won the first two sets 25-17 and 25-22. The Mustangs stayed alive with a 27-25 win in set three, but coach Alex Carlson's Bulldog squad put the stamp on the match with a 25-9 win in set four.

"I think it is always tough to open against the home team and our team played really well to start off the day," said Carlson.

Next up was the Prospectors. The two squads went back and forth. Grant Union won the first set 25-21, but the Dawgs rallied to win the next two, 25-17 and 25-23. But Culver wasn't able to shut the door. Grant Union claimed the fourth set in a tight 25-21 affair, then had everything working to roll in the deciding fifth set 15-3.

"We had a great match against a very talented Grant Union team.  You would love to learn from a win but we played well and got some very valuable in game lessons," said Carlson.

Weston-McEwen brought a comparative big line-up to the floor against Culver in the Bulldogs' final game of the day, and the TigerScots also served well. But the Bulldogs were the better team overall, winning the first two sets 25-18 and 25-13. Weston-McEwen came back to gut out the third set with a 25-23 win, but then Culver capped the victory with a 25-19 win in the fourth set.

"(Weston-McEwen) was a game that we talked about showing what type of grit we had because it had been a long morning of matches.  I was very impressed with the way our team competed and showed up to play in the third game," said the coach. "We beat a very good team and had to play well to do it. Also bouncing back from a tough loss showed the character of the team."

Carlson said the tournament success was driven by good team play, and that everyone on the squad made big plays at different times.

"We have a great senior class at Culver this year and the group of Brooke Bush, Kayden LeeAnn, Hensley Wachtner, Gracie Mendoza, Madi Constatine and Shanti Rosales are playing and leading at a high level right now," said Carlson.

"The Bulldogs have a tough schedule to start their season. We will face top 10 ranked teams Saturday at Stanfield.  We follow that up next week by playing the No. 1-ranked team and defending state champions Salem Academy twice."

Culver opens its home season Monday, Sept. 12 against Willamina, another top 10 team. 

"It is pushing our team to play at a high level because we are facing such tough competition, but I believe we have the group this year that will raise their level of play by facing such good teams.  It is going to be an exciting year for Culver volleyball," said Carlson.

The Culver-Willamina game in Culver is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

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