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With the entire season on the line, the Barton College men’s volleyball team took down King University with a 17-15 fifth-set victory in the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas tournament championship to win the match, 3-2, on Thursday at Wilson Gymnasium.
The top-seeded Bulldogs (25-4) fell behind in the fifth set 14-13 but rallied to win and close out the match against the No. 2 Tornado (20-10), which shared the regular-season title after splitting both matches.
“I told them just play together,” Barton head coach Jeff Lennox said. “We had a game plan, we knew they had a game plan and we’ve seen each other so much that at that point it was just who’s going to make the plays.”
The Tornadoes was the last team to beat the Bulldogs nearly two weeks ago, 3-1. That loss meant that King and Barton tied for the regular-season championship for a third straight year.
“It’s a really healthy rivalry because we respect them so much,” Lennox said. “Every time we play them, we got to play our best. They’re just a great program, they’ve proven that the past few years.”
The match started with the Bulldogs blowing a 15-10 lead to lose 25-23. The second set Barton never trailed, but King kept it close as the score finished out at 25-22. The third set was dominated by Barton, who after trailing 2-0 took control winning 25-13. The fourth set had 14 ties and five lead changes, but the resilient King team looked match point in the face and rallied back to win 27-25.
“I want to give credit to King because that was a battle,” Lennox said. “They gave us everything that I thought they would. Their middle stepped up and blocked exceptionally well. I really thought our team earned it. We played as good as we needed to. It feels extremely rewarding to make it back to the NCAA tournament after defeating a team we respect so much.”
Vasilis Mandilaris was the tournament’s most valuable player after hitting 36 kills — 23 in the game against King. Angelos Mandilaris and Adrian Iglesias were both named to the all-tournament team. The win clinched the Bulldogs’ second trip to the NCAA tournament since 2017.
“We’re going to rest for a day or so, because they earned that, and then find out on Sunday who we play,” Lennox said. “Then start preparing like we always do, watching film and getting guys ready.”