Gull Lake volleyball head coach Karyn Furlong admits she’s spoiled.
There are many programs in the state that have never had a Division 1-bound athlete or a Miss Volleyball candidate. This season, Furlong has two.
Gull Lake seniors Leah Perri and Katie Schau have led the Blue Devils to a 50-6 record and the No. 1 ranking in Class A. The dynamic duo, who were named finalists for the prestigious Miss Volleyball Award back in September, are hoping to end their prep careers on top before they take their skills to the college level.
“We’re very very lucky and fortunate,” Furlong said. “They are two great kids. Whether they are Miss Volleyball candidates or not, they are two of the best kids to come through our program. They just make everybody around them better, so they are great to have around.”
Perri is a 5-foot-11 middle blocker and is committed to play at Clemson University. In school, she’s a National Honor Society member with a 4.0 GPA. On the volleyball court, she’s Gull Lake’s top offensive threat with 516 kills to go with 398 digs, 84 blocks and 35 aces.
Schau is a 5-foot-9 setter and is committed to the University of Minnesota. She carries a 4.1 GPA and is also a member of the National Honor Society. For the Blue Devils, she has 1,293 assists (which already ranks her in the top 20 in state history), 138 kills, 60 blocks and 37 aces.
St. Philip senior Amanda McKinzie is also a Miss Volleyball Award finalist, as well as a teammate to Perri and Schau on the Dead Frog/Far Out Club volleyball team.
“I was so happy because a lot of other girls from my club team were on (the finalists list), and a lot of girls I played with for so long were on it,” Perri said. “So it was really cool for all of us to get recognized for working together and working so hard.”
Schau added, “It was cool thing that Leah and I were on it and I have other friends that are on it, so I was just happy for all of us.”
The two have spent all four years of their careers on varsity, and Furlong said the relationship has benefited both on the court.
“You can be a great hitter with or without a setter. But if you have a setter, it makes you even better,” Furlong said. “And good setters make hitters look good, and good hitters make setters look good. So I definitely think they elevate each others play.”
The Schau-to-Perri combo has been going for at least five years, as Schau didn’t become a full-time setter until eighth grade. But the bonds between the two go back further than that.
“I would say we’ve been really good friends since fourth grade,” Perri said. “We do most stuff together, so we have a really good friendship already. And then being on the court together just makes it that much better. We can communicate, we just trust each other on the court, so it’s really great.”
That chemistry is one of the biggest reasons why Gull Lake has a chance to play for a state championship this season. The Blue Devils captured their only state title back in 1994 when they won the Class B tournament. Gull Lake also advanced to the Class B quarterfinals in 2007 and the Class A quarterfinals in 2011.
“We know everyone is coming for us,” Schau said.
“We’ve experienced where we didn’t prepare like we should have, and teams came up and snuck up behind us and taught us a lesson that we can’t underestimate any team. So we really do need to take it one point at a time.”
Perri added that rankings don’t mean much to her team once the ball is served.
“I don’t think we really think about being No. 1 in the state. It’s nice to have. But we just want to get better every day,” Perri said. “The team has really stepped up, and the younger players have gotten better, and we’re all talking, and it’s just been a really fun year.”
Furlong seems to have made it clear to her players that they should not look ahead. The Blue Devils have faced stiff competition this season while having a bulls-eye on their backs, winning the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division title as well as other elite weekend tournaments.
“You have to come out ready to play every match because everybody is gunning for you and out to get you,” Furlong said. “When you do get beat, it’s like that team just won the national championship. So it’s sometimes a tough pill to swallow.
“I just tell the girls not to worry about it, and we’ll take our lumps just like all the other teams. But all that matters is who is standing at the end.”