By Brian Liebenstein
>State tourney starts Thursday
Culver High's volleyball Bulldogs made short work of its foe from Weston-McEwen High Saturday to earn the Columbia Basin Conference's top seed for the U.S. Bank - Oregon School Activities Association 2A state tournament.
A 15-3, 15-11, crushing of Weston-McEwen in the first of three matches played Saturday at Heppner left Culver coach Dave Hassler satisfied.
"I think it might have intimidated them to come into the gym and see us already there blasting away," Hassler explained. By beating Weston-McEwen's Tigerscots to the Heppner gym, the Bulldogs got to start warming up early on Saturday afternoon.
"We chewed up Weston-McEwen. There's no love lost between us as far as I'm concerned," he added.
Culver stuck around after its win. Hassler wanted to see whether Heppner, the second seed from the same division as the Bulldogs, could come back after a long match it won to beat Weston-McEwen. But Weston-McEwen won.
Hassler even noted frustration with not having more of what he called "many" setting errors called on Weston-McEwen.
"We wanted to crush them, but I'm just thrilled we qualified (for the state tournament)," said Hassler.
Culver's players punched their own tickets to Monmouth by speeding to an 8-0 lead in the first game. That might have brought on a slight let down by Culver, but Hassler was not worried he said.
The girls are ready, having played in summer volleyball tournaments against teams from throughout the West or competed at the state level in other sports, for the most part, Hassler explained.
Using a combination of power and off-speed hitting to specific holes, Culver got ahead early and kept on the pressure in the first game against Weston-McEwen, said Hassler. He credited the play of various girls. There were seven in the first game alone who stepped in to contribute either points, digs, kills or other statistics.
"These girls know what it's like to be in big games. They'll be ready for state," Hassler said of the event the Bulldogs qualified for with their win over Weston-McEwen.
Culver's opening round match Thursday will be at 7 p.m. at the Western Oregon University gym in Monmouth. It will meet the Northwest League's second-seed, from Warrenton.
There is a tradition of quality volleyball out of the Northwest League, Hassler noted. He once coached in the league himself, at Oregon Episcopal.
Culver is his focus now though, and Hassler said he sees a potential to play in a trophy game among the Bulldogs.
"I have five different players who can play in some spots, even though not one of them is really a natural at that position," Hassler noted.
Amanda Allen was credited with getting Culver going in the match against Weston-McEwen. There was lots of help, though, Hassler added, pointing to senior setter Tara Stirewalt as just one example among an arsenal including Lanisha Goicoa, and Kristi Allen, among others.
The ability to use Stirewalt as well as Marissa Hagman at setter was noted by Hassler as just one bit of versatility the girls afford him and assistant Heidi Boyle in coming up with a variety of potential strategies for each match.
Being able to introduce the girls to some college-level concepts and have them grasp them has been of help to Culver's record this season, Hassler added.
It is actually the juniors, like Hagman, Goicoa and Amanda Allen, who have picked up the most volleyball experience over the past 18 or 19 months, according to Hassler. While Stirewalt has been a leader as a senior, the other seniors, in Lacey Miller and Jessi Torres, have excelled more as a specific role player, the coach explained.
Goicoa produced the bulk of Culver's power against Weston-McEwen, with 12 kills, and made just one hitting error in 21 attempts. But Amanda Allen and others made the Bulldogs winning a team effort, Hassler emphasized.
Amanda Allen got in all 11 serves she made and had three blocks plus eight digs while Stirewalt got in all nine of her serves and made five assists.
Kristy Allen also had two kills, as did Stephanie Hewitt.
The defensive anchor for Culver in the match was Amanda Allen, according to Hassler.
There will be a parade as the team departs Culver, noted Hassler. He said it will likely take place about 6 p.m. on Wednesday, as he hopes to have the team spend a lot of Thursday watching other teams before its own match.