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Heart, hustle can do wonders

In the Bleachers with Billy

by: Billy Gates/The Pioneer - Madras’ Aurora Gerhardt goes for the ball in overtime of the Buffs’ 7-6 win against Class 6A Sunset on Friday at Madras Aquatic Center. Gerhardt scored the match-winning goal in sudden death overtime.

You hear it all the time.
   "This team has heart," the coach said, after a game in which the team came from behind to win.
   But whenever I hear it, I always start to think if that's really why the team won or not.
   I don't want to be a downer or anything, but most of the time, heart has little to do with it. Most of the time, the team is just simply more skilled and better prepared - they just had a little bit of a lapse in focus. Typical high school stuff, really.
   There are exceptions to everything, however, and after the volleyball match between Culver and Kennedy ended, that was one of those times.
   Culver and Kennedy are two of the best Class 2A teams in Oregon, there's no denying that. Kennedy hadn't lost to a 2A school the entire year until the Bulldogs dispatched them Wednesday in Culver, and the Bulldogs had won nine straight matches and were rolling harder than a semi-truck going downhill without brakes. In skill level, the teams are very comparable and they are two of the deepest team in the state, which is what makes them both dangerous all the time.
   When two teams that play at a high level clash, that's when the exceptions to all the cliches come out. Culver wanted that match more than Kennedy did, plain and simple. I've watched a lot of volleyball in my life, whether it was through work or during my younger days (my sister played on two state championship teams in high school), and I hadn't seen so many sell-out, hustle plays in a match than I saw Wednesday night.
   The Culver players seemed to be everywhere, all the time. On more than one occasion, a Culver player dove on the floor and stuck her hand on the floor in an effort to just let the ball hit the back of it and pop back up for a teammate to keep it in play. It's a risky move, and it's called a "pancake dig," due to the hand being flat on the floor. Mmmm, pancakes.
   At any rate, the win was huge for Culver. H-U-G-E. A team that has battled inconsistency throughout the season seemed to figure it all out once they were able to knock off the conference leader that beat them soundly on the road earlier in the season. That's what championship teams do, they learn from mistakes and don't let them happen again.
   Heart had everything to do with this win. I talked with senior setter Jahnie Cleveland about 15 minutes after the match, and she was still out of breath. So was everyone else. They left it all on the floor Wednesday night.
   Once the Bulldogs get their playoff draw, I have no doubt they'll be punching another ticket for the Class 2A state tournament. They just won't have to go as far this time.
   Sticking with the Culver theme, I talked with head football coach Brian Silbernagel about the unfortunate, but necessary forfeiture of last week's and this week's football games.
   It stinks for everyone. For the players, coaches, schools and even me because I enjoy covering football and hate to see high school kids have to sit at home Friday nights.
   I do realize, however, that it has to happen this way.
   Silbernagel is committed to teaching these kids the game of football the right way, and that's not putting freshmen in harm's way.
   He told me he could handle starting a freshman or two on varsity, but when it was getting to the point where he was going to have to start five or six due to injuries, he said enough was enough. It's a tough decision to make because there are more than just freshmen on the team, like six seniors, but for the program's sake and the safety of the younger players, forfeiting a couple games is imperative.
   The team isn't just sitting idle, though. Silbernagel and athletic director Brad Kudlac lined up a full junior varsity schedule, perhaps seeing this sort of situation coming this year, and the Bulldogs have been able to develop the young kids in a safer, more learning-conducive type of environment.
   When I was growing up, Culver was awesome. It seemed like they were in the playoffs and going deep every year - because they were. They are having a down time right now, but like with most small schools, success is cyclical.
   Times are rough now, but they won't be in a couple years.
   If you haven't already, go buy a ticket to the Madras Boosters crab and tri-tip dinner. It's Saturday at the Jefferson County Gun Club. It's $20 for a sweet surf-and-turf meal and it benefits the athletes and programs of Madras High School. You can't go wrong. Seriously.
   These types of events are great in communities like this. In my former life, working in Hermiston, the booster club there puts on a grand show that raises some serious cash.
   Events like this make me feel better about society, and people in general. It reminds me there are people out there who put the well-being of others before themselves, and especially since they are helping kids fulfill dreams.
   There is also an auction that goes on during the event, plus other activities, that will help put money in the bank for Madras High School Athletics.
   I know there are plenty of things going on Saturday, but you should really go to this.
   Really, if you're a sports fan.