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Bulldogs 2, Trojans 0.
In the ever-expanding sports repertoire of the Barton College athletic department, such a result against Conference Carolinas archrival University of Mount Olive in any discipline would be met with approval inside the ground-floor offices of Hackney Hall.
Most 2-0 results are relevant only for a short while, just enough to extend a winning streak, keep a season alive, or reach the next round of postseason play before the grind begins anew.
But that’s not the case with Vasilis and Angelos Mandilaris. They’re the 2-0 victory that keeps on giving for the Bulldogs’ men’s volleyball team, the brotherly tandem that ranks first and second, respectively, on Barton’s all-time kills list. However, there’s not much time for Vasilis, a senior, to bask atop the program record books with his 1,169 career kills. Once Barton plays its final match in the 2019 National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship, Angelos, who sits just 43 kills behind his brother, will have one more year of eligibility. Indeed, it won’t take long for those positions to flip-flop on the Barton all-time rolls.
“You don’t want to overlook Vas’ career, because it’s been amazing,” Barton head coach Jeff Lennox said. “But it’s pretty awesome that the one that will pass him is his brother. And I think Vas will be the first one to tell you that he’s more excited for that than himself. I think he always puts the spotlight onto Angelos, his successes and builds him up to be better. Having a record like that is always good to have, and if you say you don’t care about it, then I think you’re lying a little bit.”
Barton teams subject to the swinging arm of Vasilis have compiled a 91-25 record in four years entering Thursday’s opening-round match in the National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship against Princeton in Wilson Gym. It will be the first NCAA postseason match in the building, with tournament paraphernalia in NCAA-logo adorned boxes waiting to be hung as late as Tuesday afternoon.
In four years at Barton, the Bulldogs have advanced to no less than the Conference Carolinas tournament finals with Vasilis on its roster, including the program’s first conference tournament title in 2017.
FENDING OFF MOUNT OLIVE
To procure the services of both Mandilaris brothers, Barton had to fend off UMO on two occasions. First, for Vasilis.
“It was Mount Olive and some South Carolina schools mainly,” Vasilis recalled. “They were the ones giving me some really good scholarships, and I had to consider them. But Barton gave me the best offer, and they were chasing me.”
Barton was coming off a 13-18 season under Lennox and a .500 showing in conference play in 2015. The incoming freshman class, which included Vasilis, Aleksa Brkovic and Justice Lord as the three members of that class still on the roster as seniors, would be relied upon to help turn Barton’s fortunes into that of a winning program.
The Bulldogs haven’t had a losing season since.
“I think the recruiting process for both of them was very positive with Barton,” Lennox said. “I think just the way that we communicated with them and I was honest and up front with them — that was very helpful. I was never really concerned. I think he knew what he was getting when he decided to come here. I knew he would get trained well and get to play with his brother. He’d always be competitive and play at a high level. I think he was excited and knew Barton was the best place for him.”
Even though Vasilis was playing for the Bulldogs, Barton came close to watching Angelos and his 1,126 kills set up shop 40 miles away in Mount Olive.
How many career kills would Angelos have tormented the Bulldogs with in that brother-versus-brother affair?
“It came up to the last moment,” Angelos said. “It was between Mount Olive and Barton. Mount Olive gave me a very similar offer. So I had to put everything on the scale and weigh the positives and the negatives. Barton also did a little bit better that year (reached the Conference Carolinas championship). Mount Olive lost in the quarterfinals. That was one of the things; I wanted to go to a very successful team. Not that Mount Olive wasn’t successful, they’re a good team. The offers were very similar, and my brother was here. And the team was playing better. Those were the two reasons.”
NO PROMISES MADE
Although championships followed the recruitment of both Mandilaris brothers to Barton, Lennox said he never made any promises relating to playing time or winning matches. While some recruits get bombarded with promises with victories over the likes of Penn State, Ohio State and UCLA, those pitches aren’t made on Barton men’s volleyball visits.
“It’s one of those things where you can’t promise success,” Lennox said. “You can outline the path and what we believe is important and what our values will be and how we think we’ll get there, but you can never sit down with a kid and a family and say ‘Hey, we’re going to be conference champions, we’re going to go to the NCAA tournament.’ I think the people that do, you should stay away from those people, because you never know.”
Yet after entering the year with just one victory over a Div. I team in program history, Barton has three to its credit in 2019. The Bulldogs hosted defending national champion Long Beach State this season and were swept, but played as if they were prepared.
At the Grow the Game Challenge in Lebanon, Tennessee, Barton defeated Div. I Grand Canyon University in five sets when the Antelopes were ranked No. 15 in the nation. One day later, the Bulldogs turned in arguably their best name-brand victory in program history with a four-set win over USC. Harvard fell to Barton in four sets in Wilson Gym on March 18, and Princeton enters ranked No. 13 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division I-II poll. The Tigers knocked off Penn State in five sets to win the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association tournament title and the league’s automatic bid.
“It gave us that self-belief,” Lennox said of knocking off USC. “I think we’ve always trained hard and we’ve always prepared very well for these matches. We’ve had a lot of opportunities to play really good teams, and I think we’ve performed well in the past. We just haven’t come out on top, and you don’t want to be result-driven, but the idea of getting one of those wins under your belt and saying OK, what we’re doing does work and it can be sustained over time. It does put us in the same picture as these guys from these other conferences.”
Should Barton win in front of its home crowd Thursday night — admission to the 7 p.m. match is free of charge — it would advance to Long Beach, California, for the quarterfinals, where Pepperdine University awaits. No. 1 Hawaii and No. 2 Long Beach State earned byes into the semifinals.
Another historical precedent for Barton men’s volleyball, in the form of an NCAA victory, is within reach.
“The expectation is, we have to win,” Vasilis said. “I’ve said it to all of my teammates. They ask me, some of them ask, well do you think we can do it? Well, of course we can do it. We’re going to play well, we’re going to force them to play our game and if they’re going to beat us, they have to play better than us. It’s an incredible opportunity for us. We’re more ready than we have ever been, and yes. The expectation is to win.”
No doubt fueled by a 2-0 win on the recruiting trail for Barton four years ago.