Gull Lake High squared off against Portage Central in an MHSAA Division 1 regional semifinal volleyball match on Tuesday night.
Gull Lake's mission: The top-ranked Blue Devils were hoping to advance to the round of 16 by taking down a Mustang club it knocked off in September at the East Grand Rapids Invitational.
Yet although the Blue Devils advanced to the regional final in a three-games triumph -- 25-12, 25-22, 25-14 -- the match played in the dome at Portage Northern High was an awful lot tighter than the score would indicate.
Indeed, head coach Karyn Furlong saw plenty of room for improvement.
"I thought we played flat. I didn't think we played with very much intensity," Furlong said. "When we played Coldwater (last) Thursday in the district semifinal we played very well, we were very intense, very emotional, and even Saturday against Mason (in the district finale) we had it."
The lack of emotion showed during a tight second game that saw the Blue Devils (58-6) -- the SMAC East and SMAC Big 16 champs -- squeak out a three-point win after taking the first game by 13 points.
Senior middle blocker Leah Perri, however, made enough plays throughout the game to make certain that she and her teammates would advance to Thursday's regional final against either Okemos or Grand Rapids Christian.
Perri finished with a match-high 15 kills and added 10 digs for good measure, but even she wasn't impressed with how the night turned out.
"I thought we came out hard, we played quick and hard, but I think we could have played a little better. Our communication was off and our ball control wasn't very good," Perri said.
Fellow senior Katie Shau added 32 assists, 10 digs and three blocks during the win. Junior Emily Flaget had 10 kills and 11 blocks, and senior Kendy Sosnoski led the team with 13 digs.
Despite the strong statistical output, Furlong emphasized that the team would need put in some serious work during Wednesday's practice if it expects to move on to the Elite Eight.
"They've got to get back to practice tomorrow and refocus and clean some things up. Thursday's match is not going to be that easy, and we're going to have to fight for everything," Furlong said. "A lot of hard work, a lot of perseverance, we need to take care of the ball when we have it, take advantage of our opportunities."
Perri agreed that the road will only get tougher from here on out.
"We can play a lot faster and a lot harder," Perri said. "There's always fears because every team is out to get us. We just have to play hard every game."
Despite an effort that Furlong considered to be less than stellar, the Blue Devils picked up the match win -- and at this time of year, that's really all a coach can ask for.
"I honestly thought it was going to be a battle, I thought it was going to go five games," Furlong said.
Portage Central, the SMAC West champ, finished the season with a record of 41-23.