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Deep Bulldog squad gets past Cougars in straight sets, now faces top-ranked Salem Academy for Tri-River Conference title

LON AUSTIN  - Teal Nelson goes for a kill during the Culver Bulldogs' straight-set victory over Gervais Oct. 20 in the Tri-River Conference playoffs. The Culver High School volleyball team took a big step toward their season goals with a straight-set victory over Gervais in the Tri-River Conference playoffs.

The 25-9, 25-18, 25-23 win moved Culver into the league championship, where they will play at No. 1-ranked Salem Academy on Saturday. The win also guaranteed the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs a spot in the state playoffs.

"It's something that is extremely exciting for us," said Culver head coach Alex Carlson. "We know we are going to be extremely challenged, but it's also where we can come out and accomplish one of our big goals of winning a league championship. That's one of our big goals that we wanted to do at the beginning of the year. The other thing is that would put is in a great place to have a home playoff game and a high seed going into the state tournament."

The Bulldogs split their two matches with Gervais this season, losing in straight sets on the road Sept. 29, then coming back their next match and winning 3-1 in Culver Oct. 3.

On Thursday, the Bulldogs came out on fire in the first set, rolling to a 10-2 lead before quickly closing out the set. Gervais was closer in the second set, but the Bulldogs still were in control from the start. The third set was a different story. Gervais led virtually the entire way, and still led 23-20, before Culver scored the final five points of the set to take the win.

"It meant a lot because it showed how much we can really fight," said senior middle blocker Kayden Leeann of winning in straight sets. "The encouragement from our coaches our fans, our parents ... just really helped. It helped lift up the whole gym. I'm really proud of our whole team for pushing back because most of the time we have struggled going five sets and battling back at the end, but this time we just wrapped it up and took it in three."

Carlson agreed that it was important to the team to win in straight sets.

"It was huge for us because they were gaining some momentum," he said. "But, also, we talked aobut the last time we played this team we had two really good sets and then let our foot off the gas in the third on and then had to play a tough fourth set because of that. For us to battle back and reset ourselves and get competitive in that nature I think really bodes well for us moving on to bigger and tougher games in the future."

The Bulldog attack was led by Hensley Wachter with eight kills, while Madison Constantine had six, Leeann five and Teal Nelson three. Leeann had three blocks in the contest, while Culver setter Brooke Bush and libero Shanti Rosale each had two aces.

Gervais was led by Lilly McCargar with eight kills.

"I really think that we did good tonight," said Culver's Rylee Matney. "Our first and second sets were amazing, but then our third set we kind of got quiet, but then we really picked up the energy and had good effort and attitude."

"We don't have to worry about somebody doing this or somebody else doing that for us to get where we want," Carlson added. "We can just focus on taking care of business on Saturday. I'm just extremely excited. The girls are really starting to take the next step as a team and really coming together in the ways that you want them to before the end run, so just excited how these next couple weeks are going to come out for us."

Salem Academy will be a supremely tough test, though. The top-ranked Crusaders are 21-5, 14-0 in conference. Culver pushed them in their two matches, though, losing 3-2 on the road then 3-1 at home. But both of those games were in mid-September.

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