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The fact that Tuesday served as the final home game of the season for the Barton College men’s volleyball team initially registered as a source of disappointment for the Bulldogs.
While Barton, the defending NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas tournament champion, had no trouble at all with its first task in the 2018 tourney with a 25-15, 25-18, 25-18 sweep of Erskine College in Wilson Gym, the tiebreaking methodology used by the league will ship the No. 2 seed Bulldogs to Bristol, Tennessee, for the rest of the event.
Barton, which clinched its third straight 20-win season, moved to 20-7 and faces No. 3 seed University of Mount Olive on Friday night at King University. Erskine, the No. 7 seed, had its season ended at 7-20.
Barton and King ended the regular season as co-champions after splitting regular-season encounters, but Conference Carolinas was forced to utilize its fourth tiebreaker, which is percentage of conference sets won. The Bulldogs lost eight sets, to King’s six.
Thus, if Barton and King each win semifinal matches Friday, the teams will meet for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Div. I-II tournament in Bristol on Saturday. Barton lost a four-set tilt at King back on April 6.
“Our conference made the innovation to make us not host,” junior Vasilis Mandilaris said. “I think at the end of the day, you need to win. Regardless of where we play, we’re going to go there and show we’re the best team. I’m very confident about it.”
Against the overmatched Flying Fleet, Barton only trailed once at 3-2 in the third set. That was met with a 5-0 burst, and the Bulldogs never trailed again. Using a .338 hitting percentage on the attack, Barton dominated by doubling up Erskine in kills, 40-20. The Fleet were held to a negative percentage at -.014 and had an identical amount of kills and errors (six) in the final set.
The Mandilaris brothers led the way on the attack for Barton, with Angelos Mandilaris notching 15 kills. Vasilis pitched in 10.
Juniors Justice Lord and Aleksa Brkovic enjoyed strong matches up front, accounting for four block assists each. Lord also had a pair of solo blocks in the second set that helped the Bulldogs seize control with a 7-0 run.
“It’s one of our better blocking matches,” Barton head coach Jeff Lennox said. “We’ve been struggling blocking a little bit, and I thought tonight we did a good job.”
In the opening set, Barton held a one-point lead before a 6-1 run, ended by Brkovic’s kill, put the Bulldogs up 15-9. Erskine pulled within three points, but got no closer. A Vasilis Mandilaris kill ended the opening set.
The Bulldogs led 10-7 in the second set, but took control with a 7-0 spurt. Indeed, Lord took control during the run with a block and a pair of kills. Vasilis Mandilaris’ ace put the Bulldogs up 17-7. Redshirt sophomore Oscar Fiorentino’s kill ended the second set. Fiorentino, from his setter position, tallied 36 assists.
“I think we didn’t play very well,” Vasilis Mandilaris said. “I think we did the job, but the potential is much better. I think we’re going to show this weekend. I think we need to be more consistent with serve receive and when we have a good reception, we need to be more effective in siding out the first ball. We’re going to do it when it’s needed, and I’m very confident we’re the best team in the conference. We’re going to show it this weekend.”
On the day regular season ended, some Barton players took to social media to voice their frustration with the Conference Carolinas tiebreaking procedure as currently constituted.
“At first, I think they were just confused,” Lennox said. “And being young guys, confusion can lead to being emotional. So I don’t blame them for that. But we regrouped, and we realized that no matter what, we need to beat two good teams at this point. Three when the playoffs started, but going into the semis and finals, you’ve got to beat two good teams. It doesn’t matter where we play — if we have to play at King, if we have to play here, if we have to play in Nebraska, who cares? We’re going to go where ever they tell us to play, and our guys are going to show up and play their best.”