In the Bleachers with Billy

As I was watching the Culver High School volleyball team thrash the Myrtle Point Bobcats in the first round of the Class 2A volleyball playoffs on Saturday, I was reminded of my sister.

That might sound a little weird out of context, so please hear me out on this one.

My sister played volleyball while she was in high school, and her team won two consecutive state championships at the 1A level (‘98 and ‘99).

It takes a pretty special group to win back-to-back championships in any sport at any level, and while I was in junior high when my sister’s Ione Cardinals beat Jordan Valley and Alsea in state championship matches, I still remember quite a bit about that team.

They had two outstanding hitters, a setter that could put a ball on top of a thimble from across the court (that was my sister, and of course I have no bias there), a crew of role players that knew exactly what they had to do and a coaching staff that has the team playing its best volleyball when they have to.

That was really the first time I was exposed to volleyball, and honestly I just went to watch the games because my parents made me.

But I paid attention enough to figure out what made a good team, and what made volleyball watchable from a casual fan’s perspective.

My sister’s team showed me that, and they ended with two state championship banners to put inside the gym at Ione to prove it.

When Culver’s match was done on Saturday, I felt a little déjà vu. I had seen a team play like that before, a team that was as much powerful as it was crafty, and one that wasn’t going to rest until the job was done.

I saw the same team play on Saturday in Culver that I saw when I was 13 and 14 at Lane Community College, where the 1A tournament used to be held. The similarities in skill level and team chemistry are striking.

It’s funny how two teams, which played 13 and 14 years apart, can have nearly identical make-ups. The building blocks for both teams are essentially the same: a first rotation full of talent and passion, excellent reserve players and a coach who knows how to keep the machine churning.

A perfect storm of talent, work ethic, camaraderie and instruction make up all championship teams, but what’s different is how much of which element is present. Not so much with the Ione team of the late ‘90s and today’s Culver Bulldogs.

It’s almost eerie to me that the teams are so similar. It’s one of those things you literally have to see to believe, but Shealene Little and Gabrielle Alley play almost exactly like the two big guns for Ione, Nikki McElligott and Camie Burright, did.

All the aformentioned players hit the volleyball like an annoying little brother and play with the type of energy that makes the Energizer Bunny jealous.

At the setter position, Lewis is more athletic than my sister was (I can say that because I know my sister won’t read this), which makes her an even more dangerous player.

Not only will Lewis set the ball on a dime to one of the big boppers, but she can jump up and help out in the blocking game, too.

I guess there’s a small difference there, and I think it’s the biggest one when talking about how the teams are built.

The more I watched on Saturday, the more I could see the parallels between the two teams. Every team has its own special quirk, a little something that makes their clock tick a little different than most, but what I saw on Saturday was the type of team that can win back-to-back state championships.

Culver has an excellent shot at doing so this weekend, and there really isn’t a reason they can’t pull it off if they play like they have all season.

I expect to see more of the team I saw play 14 years ago, and also the one I saw play Saturday.

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