When it was over, no one doubted that Mike Hurlbut's lobby to get Dana Hills into the Southern California Division I girls' volleyball playoffs was valid.
Dana Hills players will tell you they deserved to be there.
Hurlbut will tell you the same thing.
And so will second-seeded Poway.
Poway won, 15-10, 15-11, 15-12, but trailed in every game.
It was a disappointing night for the Dolphins (18-4), who won their first South Coast League title in 20 years and, thanks to an at-large berth, were making their first appearance in the State playoffs. After winning 11 in a row, they lost their last two matches, to Newport Harbor in the Southern Section semifinals and to Poway (27-1), which hosts Newport Harbor on Saturday.
Dana Hills, the fifth team from Orange County in the eight-team playoffs, had the Titans on the ropes.
"We played a hell of a game to 10," said Hurlbut, whose team reached 10 points before Poway did in two of the three games. "That was really uncharacteristic. We've done a fantastic job of closing the deal on a lot of our matches. We didn't exactly do that tonight."
In Game 1, the Dolphins had a 10-2 lead. In Game 2, they led 5-1. In Game 3, they led 4-0.
Taking the big lead in the first game, Hurlbut thought to himself, "Upset." But the unthinkable followed. The passing game broke down, and Poway scored 13 consecutive points. The transition game was never the same.
"I think we deserved to be here," said junior Jenny Kessy, who had a team-high 14 kills. "We played with the will to upset them. We wanted it so badly, I think we were getting on each other's cases a little."
Jeanne Vetter had eight kills for Dana Hills, but she and Kessy couldn't overcome the four division I college-bound players Poway had: Kara Milling (UCLA, 15 kills), Keri Byrne (Ohio State, 11 kills), Korie Rogers (Brigham Young, 10 kills) and Jen Blankenbeckler (Arkansas).
That foursome has grown used to State competition, something that Hurlbut hopes for his program.
Said Milling: "When we were down, 10-2, I didn't honestly think we were going to lose that game just because of the way our team is. We always pull it out in the end."
But this time, Poway did.