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Bulldogs beats Willamina in a thrilling five-setter; face Salem Academy Sept. 13

LON AUSTIN  - Hensley Wachter rifles a kill shot against Willamina Sept. 12. Culver came back to win in five sets.  Heading into Monday's league opener against Willamina, the Culver Bulldogs were number one in the OSAA power rankings, while Willamina was third.

The Culver home match lived up to its billing as the two powerhouses slugged it out with Culver taking the victory in a five-set thriller.

"It's always really fun and your adrenaline is just going up when you are in a match like that," said Culver senior middle blocker Hensley Wachter following the match. "It's such an amazing feeling."

Playing tough defense, the Bulldogs were able to edge Willamina 25-20 in the first set. Willamina came roaring back to take a 25-10 win in the second set, then continued the momentum as they took set three 25-22.

"Alex always tells us next ball, next ball, next ball," Wachter said. "That's how you have to focus on because if you dwell on the past, you are never going to go forward."

Down 2-1, Culver bowed its back and edged Willamina in an epic 28-26 fourth set to set up a final set to 15. In that deciding set, Culver jumped on top early and never looked back as they rolled to a 15-8 win.

"It's huge," said Culver head coach Alex Carlson. "Last year we had a really great season but the majority of our games we either won 3-0 or we lost them three sets to none. This team's growth in not getting down and knowing they can keep coming and making plays has been amazing. Then when you get the insurance of going out and having success in the techniques that you are using, that's huge for us building momentum moving forward."

Wachter led the Bulldog attack with 18 kills, while Kayden Leeann added 10, Madison Constantine seven and Teal Nelson five.

Willamina countered with the one-two punch of Hallee Hughes and Brooklynn Bailey. Hughes pounded 29 kills, many of them straight over Culver's blockers, while Bailey added 11 kills.

However, despite their dominant performance of the two Willamina standouts, the Bulldogs were able to take the win largely because of their serving and defense. Culver finished the match with 10 aces, while Willamina had just four. In addition, Culver picked up five block kills in the night, led by Leeann with three.

"I'm just so proud of my team and my girls what they showed from a competition level and a heart level," Carlson said. "They really wanted to represent our community today and I thought they did a great job and can't say enough about them."

Culver played at Salem Academy on Tuesday, then host the Crusaders Thursday in a 5 p.m. match before playing Santiam at 6:30 p.m.

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