Believing in themselves: BC perseveres past Trojans in 4 sets to hold onto CC lead

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What was on pace to be a brisk three-set sweep for the Barton College men’s volleyball team Tuesday night against archrival University of Mount Olive took a sharp turn late in the second set.

With the Bulldogs looking to secure the closing points, senior outside hitter Vasilis Mandilaris began favoring his right shoulder. Despite efforts to massage his ailment in between points, the end of the set had Mandilaris on the bench, receiving attention from the Bulldogs’ training staff. He wouldn’t return, instead spending the remainder of the match with his shoulder immersed in clear wrap.

That opening, in part, allowed UMO to win the third set with a blistering .714 percentage on the attack and battle the Bulldogs to the midway point of the fourth. But behind the work of freshman outside hitter Adrian Iglesias and senior middle blocker Justice Lord, Barton gained separation and finally pulled away for a 25-18, 25-15, 20-25, 25-17 win that kept the Bulldogs (10-3) atop the Conference Carolinas standings at 6-1.

Mount Olive fell to 5-8 in all matches, 5-3 within league play.

“Anytime that happens, your mind, even if not consciously, is subconsciously is going to start thinking about other things,” Barton coach Jeff Lennox said of the injury to Mandilaris. “I think our guys eventually settled down, even in that third set. I thought Mount Olive just played really, really well and served really well. I thought their middles played awesome. They might have won that set anyway — I think they just executed at a really high level, and it was good to see our guys bounce right back and match that level.”

Without divulging the nature of the injury, Lennox assured Mandilaris would be “fine” going forward.

Certainly, the Bulldogs, who hit at a .468 clip despite the third-set lull, were fine when firing on all cylinders. Mandilaris had 10 kills in the first two sets before departing, with his brother, junior Angelos Mandilaris, leading the way with 18 kills. Freshman Adrian Iglesias, the reigning Conference Carolinas Player of the Week, had 12 kills and took more of an active role on the attack with Vasilis Mandilaris sidelined. Lord tallied nine kills and had a pair of solo blocks to go along with two block assists, all in the fourth set.

“I kind of struggled in the beginning and I normally always get frustrated when I don’t do well,” Lord said. “Once I get frustrated, I get in the zone. I tell myself I have to step it up and do better. That’s what I did.”

The Bulldogs were credited with seven blocks. Leading 15-12 in the opening set, Barton used a 6-2 run, including an Iglesias kill, a block by sophomore Dimitrios Kyridis and a kill by Angelos Mandilaris. A UMO attack error allowed Barton to close out the first set.

Despite the shoulder injury of Vasilis Mandilaris, Barton quickly erased any competitive drama associated with the second set. The Bulldogs raced to an 8-0 cushion on the strength of Angelos Mandilaris’ serving, who had three of his four aces during the run. Barton doubled up UMO at 20-10 and took a two-set lead on a kill from Angelos Mandilaris.

The Trojans, who were held to a .000 hitting percentage in the second set, took their first lead in the third. Barton stayed within shouting distance until 18-16, when a brief run caused Barton to take its second and final timeout.

Barton got no closer than three the rest of the way, and Iyanu Adebisi’s kill extended the match to a fourth set. The Bulldogs erased UMO’s final lead of 6-5 in the fourth set with an Angelos Mandilaris kill and a block from Lord.

Junior setter Oscar Fiorentino tallied 47 assists in running the Barton offense. Senior Aleksa Brkovic had 10 digs for the Bulldogs, a team high. Tobi Azeez had 13 kills for Mount Olive, with Jarrod Ferguson adding 11. UMO’s efficiency on the attack dipped to .188 in the fourth set following its monster display in the third.

Barton, which won its fourth straight match, begins a three-match road swing Saturday with a nonconference tilt at Queens.

So how was Barton able to adapt and overcome in a pinch?

“I think it was the fact that we know we’re all around, a good team,” Lord said. “Understanding that and maintaining our energy really helped us keep going with the loss of ‘Vas.’”