Bushland is making its unprecedented fourth straight appearance to the University Interscholastic League Class 3A state volleyball tournament.
The No. 1-ranked Lady Falcons (40-4 overall) also have an eye on a historic three-peat after winning back-to-back state titles the past two seasons when they open against East Bernard (42-7) in a state semifinal at 1 p.m. Thursday at The Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.
Head coach Jason Culpepper is making his impressive 11th appearance at the state tournament. The highly respected coach took Randall to seven appearances winning a Class 5A state championship in 2009 and has taken Bushland to four straight appearances winning the past two in 2020-2021. Culpepper, like the Bushland volleyball program, which has boasted an incredible six state championships – 2007-2008, 2013, 2016, 2020-2021, since the doors opened in 2006 – have never won a three-peat. With that in mind, Culpepper says that the getting three straight isn’t the topic of conversation among his team.
“We don’t talk about much other than being another check mark or goal we’re trying to hit,” said Culpepper, who is 150-11 in four seasons at Bushland. “We treat this as our first trip to state. You can get way too overwhelmed by it.”
Out of all the encounters Culpepper has taken to the state tournament, a heavy senior class will be a first. Bushland carries a strong group of eight seniors – Camryn Barton, Logan Culpepper, Bayleigh Eason, Madyson Eberly, Kaela Neie, Jada Permenter, Rachel Russell and Victoria Vaughn.
These seniors only know what it’s like to play at the Curtis Culwell Center. Even if they weren’t on varsity as freshman or sophomores, each of these seniors have lived the legacy of Bushland volleyball and have been to state in one way or another. For Players like Logan, the daughter of Culpepper, Neie, and Eberly, all three started with major roles on last year’s squad and are excited to get back one more time.
“We’re really thankful to be able to make it state the last four years,” said Eberly, who averages nine kills a match. “It was nice to make an impact the last couple of years also. It shows a lot about Bushland High School. It shows how we’re dedicated to what we’re doing.”
Logan, who is a three-year starter and captain of the Lady Falcons, has had volleyball running in her blood before she could walk. Logan says nothing would be better than to step up to the challenge and bring one more trophy home.
“Just getting to experience Garland all four years has made a huge impact,” said Logan, who has over 1,000 career assists. “Being able to experience that and helping my teammates to the competitive atmosphere that Garland presents is something special.”
Jada Permenter is in her first year starting in the Libero role after sitting behind All-State player Jaycee Adams the past three seasons. Permenter has been an unsung hero for the Lady Falcons all season averaging close to 11 digs per match. Permenter is more than ready to be on the floor at Garland and help her team to another title.
“I was thankful to learn behind Jaycee Adams,” Permenter said. “Learning from her and coming into this season has motivated me to do the same. It’s been a really fun year.”
When it comes down to it, this group of seniors are close nit. They are all great friends and play for each other to make one another better.
“I think our senior leadership has evolved,” said Neie, who averages 12 kills per match. “All of us as leaders knows our role. We’ve all accepted what our role is and what we need to do. We all pick each other up and are there for one another. We all thrive off it.”
Culpepper echoed Neie’s comments.
“Each of the seniors have a role on this team,” said Culpepper, who ranks second among all Texas Panhandle coaches with 745 career wins. “Someone always picks up a spot. They all know each other well enough to help. I’ve never had eight seniors before, so this has been good. They want to make sure to live up to the goal and expectations. These eight have always believed and stuck it out. They’ve thrived in the atmosphere. It’s tough in practice and you have to grind. That shows their maturity and the goals they want to accomplish every day.”
UIL Class 3A State Volleyball Tournament
AT Curtis Culwell Center, Garland
Columbus (45-3) vs. Gunter (41-6), 11 a.m.
Bushland (40-4) East Bernard (42-7), 1 p.m.
Saturday’s state championship