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STATE CHAMPIONS!

Culver completes comeback to claim 2A volleyball crown

by: Billy Gates/The Pioneer - The Culver volleyball team runs to the baseline after scoring the final point to win the Class 2A state volleyball championship Saturday night at Ridgeview High School in Redmond. The Bulldogs beat the Days Creek Wolves in five sets to win the title.

The roof of Ridgeview High School needs to be checked.
   After Culver senior Cassie Fulton slammed the final point to the floor in a thrilling five-set Class 2A state championship volleyball match in Redmond, the Culver cheering section went so bonkers it nearly blew it off the place.
   Culver came from behind against the Days Creek Wolves to claim the school's first volleyball state title since 1987, and first-ever in Class 2A, in a raucous match between the two unquestioned best 2A teams in the state.
   Set scores were 13-25, 25-22, 16-25, 25-22 and 15-11.
   The Bulldogs have had no problems having to come from behind and win matches. They did it against Kennedy to hand the Trojans their first loss in the Tri-River Conference, and they had to battle back against Regis in the conference tournament championship game. Neither team, however, tested the will and spirit of the Bulldogs like the Wolves did, though.
   Behind the 16 kills from Isabel Golemon and 11 from Stevie Lee Jensen, the Wolves ripped through the first set and looked like they were going to romp to back-to-back titles.
   Culver had the Wolves right where they wanted them, however.
   "We needed to clean things up and focused on the things we could control," Culver head coach Randi Viggiano said. "We gave some points early on, and we knew Days Creek would get their points because they are a great team. As soon as we cleaned up our game, we were good to go."
   In the sets Culver lost, they had 13 attacking errors combined. In the sets they won, they had seven combined, including just one in the second set, when they hit .348.
   The fourth set, early on, looked like Days Creek was going to repeat as state champs. The Wolves jumped out to a 6-1 lead, fueled by three Goleman kills. But the Bulldogs tapped into their refuse-to-lose attitude and determination, clawing their way back into the match.
   The Bulldogs tied the set at 8-8 on a Days Creek service error, then took the lead on a Shealene Little ace.
   But Days Creek stayed with the Bulldogs and regained the lead late in the match, 20-19, behind a Jensen kill, prompting Viggiano to use a timeout to cool down the hot hands of the Wolves.
   The timeout proved to be a great tactic to stop the momentum, and a pair of kills by Gabrielle Alley gave the Bulldogs a lead they never relinquished.
   A Rachel Ellis service ace pulled the Wolves within a point, 12-11, in the fifth set, but with the roar of nearly three-quarters of the gym behind them, the Bulldogs weren't phased and went to work to clinch the title they so rightfully deserved.
   Fulton clubbed a kill from her spot in the middle, then Alley smacked one of her own to bring the match to its final point.
   With freshman Lynze Schonneker at the service line, her nice serve kept the Wolves from getting a clean attack. The ball was easily returned to the Bulldogs, then setter Jahnie Cleveland laid a ball up in the middle for Fulton to power to the floor and send the gym into hysteria.
   "All of our hard work and dedication finally paid off," Fulton said. "We had our ups and downs, but I wouldn't change a thing. This season has been amazing."
   Culver lost to essentially the same Days Creek team in the quarterfinals last year at Pacific University in Forest Grove. But this year, pretty much in their backyard, just 19 miles away in Redmond, the Bulldogs weren't going to lose.
   "It took all of us to do this. We came together," Little said. "We never get down on ourselves and we're always a team and never individuals."
   Little and Fulton were named to the first-team all-tournament team, and Alley was a second-team all-tournament pick.
   Little was also named the championship match's player of the game for Culver. She led the team with 17 kills.
   The team loses Cleveland and Fulton to graduation, so it's not completely out of the question they could be back at the state tournament next year for another deep run.
   At least, that's what Alley thinks.
   "With the coaches we have, and our heart and dedication, we can be back here next year."
   With the three wins in the tournament, Culver eneded the season on a 19-match winning streak.
   The last time they lost was Oct. 13 to Kennedy in Mt. Angel during TRC play.
   Semifinals
   Culver d. Heppner
   25-20, 19-25, 25-19, 25-17
   Little had an amazing 28 kills to lead the Bulldogs past the Blue Mountain Conference champion Heppner Mustangs in the championship semifinals Friday night in Redmond.
   Alley notched 10 kills and 12 digs in a very good all-around performance.
   Cleveland has 36 assists while Fulton chipped in seven kills.
   In the second set, Heppner's Emma Osmin skipped an attack off the Culver block to give the Mustangs set point at 24-23, but Little came through and sent a rocket down the middle of the floor to tie it up.
   With the third set tied 13-13, Culver's Gabrielle Alley and Lynze Schonneker provided the spark the Bulldogs needed to capture the set.
   Alley smacked a kill through the Heppner block and Schonneker notched an ace, then Culver was able to turn those into a big momentum swing and win the set.
   Quarterfinals
   Culver d. Kennedy
   19-25, 25-15, 25-20, 25-12
   After a hiccup to start the match, the Bulldogs settled down and dispatched Tri-River Conference foe Kennedy in the opening match Friday in Redmond.
   Little had 13 kills and Alley had eight to pace the attack for the Bulldogs. Fulton notched six services aces to help fuel Culver's offense as well.
   It was the second time this season Culver beat the Trojans.