Bulldogs won conference, district last year
The Culver High School Bulldogs have the pieces to win a Class 2A state volleyball championship this season.
The biggest question looming at this point is whether or not the team can get healthy.
After marching to the state tournament last season with Tri-River regular-season and district championships to their credit, Culver placed fourth and now the Bulldogs are thinking state title.
"A state championship is always the ultimate goal," said CHS head coach Randi Viggiano. "We know that it starts in the gym at practice, but this group can be very successful if we can stay healthy."
Culver returns a large chunk of its team that went 13-1 in TRC play last season for first place, including sophomore Shealene Little, junior Gabrielle Alley and senior Cassandra Fulton. Alley, however, will miss time early in the season due to an injury.
"What I like about our team is that we have several returners that have big-game experience, but we're young," Viggiano said. "I know that can be nerve racking at times, but these younger players have something special about them, and I think things look really good for the future of this program."
Little has the potential to be the Class 2A Player of the Year. She, along with Alley, can hit the ball, and smash it with power.
"They both hit the ball hard, but in different ways and it will cause teams problems," Viggiano said. "It's not just their play, but their leadership that we rely on so heavily."
Fulton, 6-foot, 3-inches, emerged as the team's middle blocker, and she's improved.
"Cassie has developed a passion for volleyball, and she wants it so badly," Viggiano said.
Little was named a to the 2A all-state first team. She was also named a TRC first-team player, Alley was named to the second team and Fulton picked up honorable mention honors.
"We have strengths in many different areas," Viggiano said.
Senior Marie Schumacher also garnered honorable mention recognition last season, but like Alley, will miss time early in the season with an injury.
"We have younger players that will have to step in immediately," Viggiano said. "I'm confident they will do a good job for us."
Senior Jahnie Cleveland will assume the role of the team setter. This position is new for one of the emotional leaders of the team.
"Her tenacity and will to be perfect will make her successful," Viggiano said of Cleveland.
Sophomore Jazmin Ruiz will play the libero position for the Bulldogs.
"Jazmin sacrifices her body to get to the ball and her work ethic in the off season was tremendous," Viggiano said.
Sophomores Andrea Retano and Jasmin Martinez will also make an impact for the team, along with freshmen Emma Hoke, Hannah Lewis and Lynze Schonneker.
"Those three freshmen will get a ton of court time early in the season," Viggiano said. "They're talented and they impress me everyday in practice."
The Bulldogs open play in the Warrenton tournament Sept. 1. Culver opens Tri-River Conference play Sept. 4 at home against Regis.
"We're focused on improving our skills everyday in practice," Viggiano said. "Winning a state championship is an unspoken goal, but right now we want to just get better with every game we play."