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In a battle of the final two unbeaten teams in the Conference Carolinas men’s volleyball standings, Barton College, the defending regular-season and tournament champions, was simply unflappable.
Barton was efficient in its attack in improving to 10-6 overall and unbeaten through eight conference matches. The Bulldogs produced 42 kills and hit at a .319 clip, often forcing the Tornado (10-3, 7-1 CC) out of system and inducing free balls, which were subsequently put away. The Bulldogs tallied 45 digs and were tenacious in slowing down King’s offense.
“I thought the guys executed everything in the game plan at a very high level,” Barton head coach Jeff Lennox said. “We never let our foot off the gas, King is a great team, and obviously they went on some runs. But our guys, we kept our focus and our urgency, probably the highest it’s been all season, When you’re met with a great team like them, I think our guys rose to the occasion.”
Barton’s control of King was so thorough that the Bulldogs never trailed in the first or third sets. King seized brief leads of 1-0, 2-1, and 4-3 in the second set, but the Bulldogs were never in any danger of conceding a set. Barton did have to withstand the Tornado in the third set, as the Bulldogs collected a 9-3 lead in the early going. King rallied to pull within 17-16, but a kill from junior Aleksa Brkovic and a King attack error halted the insurgence. Sophomore Angelos Mandilaris, who led the way with 18 kills, took over in the closing stages of the third set, slamming consecutive kills for a 23-18 margin. Another Angelos Mandilaris kill put Barton on match point at 24-20, and King kills leader Jeff Sprayberry sent a shot long to end the match.
King was held to an .076 percentage on the attack, while Sprayberry was held in check by Barton’s defense. He hit just .081 to lead the Tornado with nine kills, as no King player reached double digits in that department.
Freshman WIlfredo Rivera and redshirt sophomore setter Oscar Fiorentino had 15 and 10 digs, respectively,
“He did a great job on their tips and rolls today and their hard cross shots, especially on (Sprayberry),” Lennox said, “I thought he was stopped on defense, read the game really well and was able to keep a few rallies going that normally would have hit the ground.”
In the opening set, Barton claimed a 16-10 lead that King chopped to 18-15. However, from 21-16, Angelos Mandilaris had a tip for a six-point Barton lead. His brother, Vasilis, provided the final two kills of the first set to stake the Bulldogs to the early lead.
Barton flustered King midway through the second set en route to its best hitting performance at .375.
Once a two-point lead at 15-13, the Bulldogs ripped off a 7-1 run to take control that featured some easy putaways as the Tornado was left scrambling out of system. Junior Nick Leary plucked a floater out of the air and slammed it to the floor, making it 21-14 Buldogs. The set would end on another kill from Leary.
From there, Angelos Mandilaris took over in the third set as the beneficiary of Barton’s adept passing. Fiorentino served up 33 assists from multiple angles to complete a double-double, with the finishes from Mandilaris primarily going cross court.
“This is a huge win because we are one step ahead from everybody,” Angelos Mandilaris said. “One step ahead of King, and two ahead of Mount Olive.”
Brkovic had 13 kills for the Bulldogs, who now take a much-welcome break until Friday when they travel to Charlotte to face South Atlantic Conference opponent Queens University.
“Of course it’s very hard, because everybody comes here with the mentality to beat us,” Angelos Mandilaris said, “They want to prove that they are better than us. I think this year is harder than last year because last year we were number two and became number one. We try hard every day and make sure to recover well.”
Indeed, recovery is now the focus.
“The guys are tired,” Lennox said “They’ve put a ton of work in. A great group, and they do everything necessary. We’re a small group and they’re getting a lot of touches. We’re going to try to give them as much rest as possible so they’re good to go moving forward.”