by: BILLY GATES/THE PIONEER - Culver accepting the third-place trophy after beating Weston-McEwen at the Class 2A volleyball tournament. In the Bleachers with Billy

In the NASCAR spoof film “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” Will Ferrell’s character loudly spouts off one of the movie’s most quotable lines that tells you all you need to know about the supposed mentality of stock car drivers.

“If you’re not first, you’re last.”

While in context it’s supposed to represent fierce competition and winning at all costs in the movie’s make believe world of stock car racing, it’s one of the most bogus lines I’ve ever heard when it comes to reality.

The Culver High School volleyball team may not have won the Class 2A state championship this season, like last season, but finishing in third place is a far cry from where Ricky Bobby said they finished.

Everyone on the team was visibly upset after the semifinal loss to Days Creek, and they had every right to be.

The team had its heart set on winning back-to-back state championships, and put in the work all season to do so. But winning a state title isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do, and Friday night, Days Creek played its best match of the season, according to coach Ron Dunn, and Culver certainly didn’t bring its A-game.

Everyone knew that, too. Players, parents, fans, coaches, media members, officials and whoever else decided to take a seat in the Ridgeview High School gymnasium that night knew something wasn’t right with the Bulldogs.

That wasn’t the Culver team I saw rip through the Tri-River Conference undefeated, and then fend off a feisty Kennedy squad looking for a huge upset in the conference tournament, just to clobber Myrtle Point in the first round of the Class 2A playoffs.

But what happened on Saturday impressed me the most. Not just about the team, but the program as a whole, and it starts with good leadership.

Resilience and confidence are closely related, as far as I’m concerned. To be resilient, you have to be confident in your ability to try again after you don’t reach a goal.

The old cliché “get up one more time than you’re pushed down” is the universal description of resilience, and while it’s a pretty good way of making it tangible, I think there’s more to it than that.

The Bulldogs could have easily thrown in the towel and thought all was lost after the semifinal loss to Days Creek, the eventual state champ this season, Friday night.

They could have mailed in Saturday’s third-place match against Weston-McEwen like the New York Mets usually do the second half of the season, but they were too darn confident in what they could accomplish.

Days Creek beat them up pretty good, and while it sent the Bulldogs out of contention for the ultimate prize, the Bulldogs said, “Hey, we’re better than that, and we’re going to show everyone.”

And boy, did they.

The team isn’t used to losing, especially to other Class 2A teams. In the past three seasons, Culver is 62-7 against 2A opponents, and half those are at the hands of Days Creek.

Against Weston-McEwen in the third-place match on Saturday, they played like loss No. 8 wasn’t going to come anytime soon.

To beat a team like Weston-McEwen, as good defensively as any team, and with one of the state’s best players in outside hitter Molly von Borstel, takes a special brand of volleyball.

The task is even harder after suffering the most morale-crushing loss of the season, but the Bulldogs showed volleyball fans they aren’t fair weather. They are a team that will dig deep and tap into that “will to win” everyone talks about.

That is possible because the program has done things the right way, has a coaching staff that knows how to instill the quiet confidence and has the type of players that can understand it.

That’s a credit to everyone involved in Culver volleyball right now. Coaches, players, parents, managers – everyone.

The Bulldogs dusted themselves off, got back up and played equally as well on the court as they played between their ears. Their game did the talking, and after it was all said and done they brought home the program’s third consective top-four trophy.

The accomplishments of the team this season should be celebrated, and even if they didn’t finish first, they certainly didn’t finish last.

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