WOODROW – The Bushland Lady Falcons volleyball team have this packing their overnight bags for state thing down pat.
Saturday the No. 1-ranked Lady Falcons looked every bit the part of the best Class 3A team in Texas using a powerful outside hitting game led by Kaela Neie and Abby Howell, a strong serve receive game and simply playing with a permanent air of confidence in advancing to the UIL state volleyball tournament for the fourth consecutive year.
Saturday during the Region I-3A championship match it was Holliday for the second straight year on the other end of the force that is Bushland volleyball with the Lady Falcons winning by a sweep of 25-18, 25-14 and 25-14 before a vocal crowd of 600 – many chanting Lady Falcons! Lady Falcons! – at Lubbock Cooper High School.
Bushland (40-4) will now attempt to pull off the rarest of rare feats by winning a third straight UIL Class 3A state championship next week in Garland.
Bushland senior setter Logan Culpepper, who had a look of shock when her name was announced as the Region I-3A Tournament most valuable player, said the goal all year long has been to win state – again.
“Threepeat is our goal,” said Culpepper, who was consistently on time and accurate with her sets helping pave the way to Bushland hitters looking so dominate against Holliday. “Every year it’s our goal to win state. We have had the opportunity twice already in a row. We know it’s going to be really tough with everybody gunning for us. They know who we are, they know our names, and they know Bushland. But we know we can do it if we execute and play together as a team.”
Bushland playing as a team was a sight to see Saturday afternoon as Holliday came in bound and determined to change its fate from last year.
In the first set, Holliday hung with Bushland for a bit doing a nice job defending down the line and when senior all-tournament hitter Addison Linemann came up with a successful kill the Lady Falcons clung to a 16-15 lead.
However, like it would in all three set wins over Holliday, Bushland became more and more dominate as each set wore on.
Bushland closed out set one with a 9-2 run using kills from Madyson Eberly, senior Nieie and junior Howell.
In set two, Bushland hitters found holes in Holliday’s defense hitting more crosscourt than down the line. As a result, Bushland went on a 8-1 run building a 21-11 lead on its way to a 25-14 set win and a 2-0 lead.
In game three, Bushland had its eyes on the state tournament prize making sure to keep alive its ridiculous streak of not losing a set since Sept. 6.
When Holliday’s Lindemann produced a kill deep in Bushland’s defense it cut the Lady Falcons lead to 13-11. It was the last gasp Holliday (43-4) had on this day.
Bushland closed out the match with a dominating 12-3 run led five Neie kills, a kill and block from Howell, an ace delivered from sophomore Mackenzie Sims and a kill from Eberly.
Holliday coach Wendy Parker was pleased with her teams’ effort but said keeping pace with a Bushland team she called the best we saw all year was too much of a challenge.
“We just had a tough time maintaining our intensity when they were firing on all cylinders,” Parker said. “It was just hard for us to stay with them. We did a good job early on their hitters but I thought they adjusted and went cross court and we struggled to pick up that.
“But I am so proud of my team. They accomplished so much.”
Bushland fourth-year coach Jason Culpepper saw his team win their 19th playoff game in a row and claim their fourth straight regional title. He was pleased with the way his players went about their business.
“The strategy was to just be very cognizant what we were doing on our side,” said Jason Culpepper, his overall coaching record a gaudy 745-172. “Our serve receive was great today. Bayleigh (Eason), Jada (Permenter), Rachel (Ruseell) and Mackenzie Sims they did a great job passing it. Then Logan did what she needed to do as far as seeing the other side of the court and set who needed set. The outsides did a great job with Maddie (Eberly) keeping them off balance. We just wanted to keep everybody guessing where we are going.”
Holliday had problems blocking Neie and Howell all match long and the two all-tournament players led Bushland in kills. Neie produced a game-high 17 kills, several of the vicious nature, while Howell was outstanding finishing with 10.
Neie said she was looking to score points whenever Holliday would get close in a set and said the Lady Falcons were ready for Holliday.
“We have played them three times in a row in the playoffs now and we know what they are like,” Neie said. “They were going to bring a lot of energy and we know they are rowdy. So we had to just stay calm. That doesn’t really phase us anymore.
“Getting to go for a threepeat is very honorable and say a lot about Bushland High School.”
Neie said a ritual with Howell inspires both to perform at a high level.
“We always give each other a huge pep talk before our games and every set,” Neie said. “We are like ‘your are so good. You are so good.’ It brings up our energy a lot.”
Bushland finished with 47 digs led by scrappy senior libero Permenter’s 15, while Logan Culpepper and Sims led the way in assists with 23 and 17, respectively. Eberly topped the Lady Falcons in blocks with four.
“Our mindset was to come in and play like we knew we could play,” Logan Culpepper said. “We had practiced and prepared for this all year we knew we could do it. We just had to execute get great passes to set up our hitters to terminate and just dominate.
No doubt, the 13th straight regional tournament appearance by Bushland was far from unlucky.
“After game one it was a tight game and we saw what was open and we talked about it,” Jason Culpepper said. “Having that target on you can be burdensome but we don’t focus on it. We focus on where are we at? What goals we have? That’s our focus. It’s in the back of our minds and we know we will get everybody’s best. Holliday brought their best. But we were ready.”