Garland – Bushland’s stronghold on Class 3A volleyball came to an end as Gunter dethroned the Lady Falcons to claim the University Interscholastic League 3A state championship while foiling Bushland’s three-peat attempt with a 29-27, 25-23, 25-20, sweep at the Curtis Culwell Center on Saturday.
In a battle of the two best the state has to offer, the Lady Tigers (43-6 overall) gained a measure of revenge on Bushland after falling in a state semifinal in 2020, and then again in the state championship last year. It’s also the first state title in program history for Gunter.
“I thought we played well,” Bushland head coach Jason Culpepper said. “Gunter was the better team but we played well from start to finish. We had to overcome some obstacles and it was a great game. I thought our team did an outstanding job all season and one game doesn’t dictate who they are.”
Gunter head coach Katelyn Gill echoed Culpepper’s comments.
“It’s a very surreal feeling,” Gill said. “This team has been playing together for a longtime and you could see that continuity on the floor. We needed to be gritty and I’m extremely proud of them of how we fought to win. I’m proud to be a part of the first state title on the girls’ side of the program in history.”
The first set really set the tone on what kind of match this was going to be. Both teams battled back and forth like two sluggers going at it in a heavyweight championship bout. Tied most of the way, Bushland and Gunter saw themselves at 25-25 at the end of the first set. That wasn’t good enough as it went to 27-27 before the Lady Tigers took the final two points capped off by Hanna Rubis’ kill as Gunter won 29-27.
From that point forward the match took on a theme. Bushland had to find ways to dig itself out of early deficits. In games full of momentum swings, Gunter would build an early lead, Bushland battled back, and Gunter would prevail in the end. In the second set the Lady Tigers went up 8-4. Bushland rallied to make it 11-11. Gunter again hit a quick sequence going up 17-12. Here came the Lady Falcons cutting it down to a 19-18 game before Gunter took the second frame 25-23.
It was more of the same in the third and final set. The veteran Gunter team jumped out 11-6. Bushland rallied to make it 18-17. Again, the Lady Tigers answered the call and took the title putting Bushland away down the stretch going on a 7-2 run to end it with a 25-20 third set victory and sweep.
“That was how last year was,” Gill said. “We started working on our defensive mindset in the offseason. Bushland does so many good things and is so strategic. We started planning for them last March. I think this time around our players were more prepared for it.”
Gunter’s Rayanna Mauldin earned state MVP honors knocking down 16 kills with seven digs and two blocks against Bushland. The Lady Falcons were led by senior Kaela Neie who had 15 kills in her final game with four digs. Senior teammate Madyson Eberly added six kills, and Abby Howell had nine. Senior Logan Culpepper, the daughter of head coach Jason Culpepper, ended her stellar career with 30 assists and 10 digs in her third appearance at state.
Though Bushland didn’t get the three-peat it doesn’t take away what the Lady Falcons have done. Bushland ends another terrific run 41-5 overall, the Lady Falcons have won 20-of-21 playoff games, and this senior class has never lost a district game as a part of an 81-game district win streak dating back to 2011. This group of seniors made up of – Camryn Barton, Logan Culpepper, Bayleigh Eason, Madyson Eberly, Kaela Neie, Jada Permenter, Rachel Russell and Victoria Vaughn – will be a group Culpepper will remember for some time.
“These girls are all like my daughters,” Culpepper said. “Having eight seniors that worked so hard and the chemistry is something I’ll remember most. No matter the outcome it is about team and friendships. They’ll go off and do awesome things.”
Logan agreed with her father’s comments.
“We had a very successful season,” Logan said. “It’s great to know I have a team that has my back and a coach that has all of our backs. He pushed us every day and that was the reason we’ve been so successful.”
For full game stats from the Bushland-Gunter state championship match, please visit https://www.uiltexas.org/files/athletics/state-volleyball/22vb3af.htm