Slipping through the fingers

Barton falls to Princeton in NCAA opening round

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The most important men’s vollleyball match to be played in Barton College’s sweltering Wilson Gymnasium, to date, will be remembered for what could have been.

Maybe the Princeton University squad of the Division I ranks will view the outcome as what should have been.

Nonetheless, the Bulldogs, Division II Conference Carolinas champions, will be haunted by missed opportunities in reflecting upon a 3-1 (25-23, 25-21, 18-25, 25-20) loss to the Tigers, Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association champs by virtue of dethroning perennial king Penn State University, in the opening match of the 2019 National College Men’s Volleyball Championship.

The opening set before a spirited, vocal turnout, produced 22 ties and seven lead changes, but the second set set the troubling tone for Barton. The Bulldogs, on seven occasions, worked themselves in position to take the lead — but could never do so.

Barton flashed its explosiveness in the third set, but fell behind early in the fourth set and could not recover against the structured, conservative Tigers.

Both teams were appearing in the tournament for just the second time and hosting a tournament game was Barton first. Barton, which finished 25-5, now stands 0-2 in appearances, losing in its debut in 2017. Head coach Jeff Lennox’s Bulldogs were one of two Division II qualifiers in the seven-team field, but the only one hailing from a Division II conference.

Princeton earned a postseason opportunity for the first time since 1998 and advanced into the quarterfinals against Division I Pepperdine.

Dynamite performances from Barton’s all-conference brothers, senior Vasilis Mandilaris and junior Angelos Mandilaris, fell just short. Angelos Mandilaris supplied 17 kills, two aces, six digs and two blocks. Vasilis Mandilaris wound up with 15 kills and eights digs.

Junior setter Oscar Fiorentino notched a match-high 46 assists, and freshman Adrian Iglesias delivered 10 kills.

However, expressionless 6-foot-11 George Huhmann, at times, was unstoppable for Princeton (18-12). He recorded 19 kills, three aces, three digs and three blocks. Princeton owned a 55-50 margin in kills as senior Kendall Ratter added 11 and 6-5 junior Greg Luck 10.

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“Hats off to Princeton," Barton head coach Jeff Lennox said. I thought it was a very evenly-matched game. They played really steady. They executed well when they needed to. I have a ton of respect for them, their staff and their players. Lot a gratitude for how our guys fought, how we stuck together, how we battled. I thought that we played hard. I thought that we played really, really well, and I’m really proud of our team.”

Barton’s plight looked especially bleak when the Tigers responded with the first three points of the third set. But Princeton became sloppy and Barton flourished.

The Bulldogs surged to a 6-6 tie and seized the lead at 8-7 on Vasilis Mandilaris’ kill. With the score knotted 10-10, Barton responded with its best flurry, building a 17-10 cushion behind 6-8 soplhomore Dimitrios Kyridis, 6-4 sophomore Emil Oefstaas and the 6-5 Iglesias. Angelos Mandilaris (6-6) drilled an ace and, from there, the Mandilaris brothers mopped up.

Barton opened the fourth set with an ace from Iglelsias, but a kill from Parker Dixon staked Princeton, benefiting from excellent sets (sophomre Joe Kelly 44 assists), to a 7-5 margin it did not relinquish. The edge widened to 10-6. A block from 6-6 senior Billy Andrew and Huhmann’s kill boosted the advantage to 16-12. Trailing 19-14, Barton requested a time-out.

But Princeton’s momentum was not broken. Another Andrew block, back-to-back kills from Ratter and, appropriately, Huhmann’s stinging kill ended it.

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The match was great, high-energy," Princeton head coach Sam Shweisky said. "The crowd was respectful and intense. It was a fun match. And the match was incredibly balanced in almost every category. We were happy to be a part of it.”

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From the outset, the teams scored as effectively while serve-receiving as serving. Attack errors (15 for Princeton of the fabled Ivy League and 14 Barton) were nearly even, and the Tigers hit for a .388 percentage as compared to .350 for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs committed two more (16-14) service errors. But Barton miscues were more untimely.

The grueling first set produced seven lead changes along with the 22 ties. The Bulldogs last led 20-19 on 6-5 Angelos Mandilaris’ dink. The Bulldogs requested time-outs while trailing 21-20 and 23-22. But Princeton’s Andrew nailed a dink and a Barton service error ended the final set.

The Tigers opened the second set with Kelly’s ace and Dixon’s block. A pair of aces from Huhlmann upped the margin to 7-3. The Bulldogs never led but charged to seven ties — only to be stymied on their attempt to grab the lead. Princeton spurted from a 21-21 tie and proceeded to a 2-0 advantage in sets on another Huhlmann ace and Andrew’s block.


The following firsts occurred in Barton’s first national tournament home match:

First serve, Vasilis Mandilaris, Barton; first point, Emil Oefstaas, Barton; first dig, Vasilis Mandilaris, Barton; first block, Oscar Fiorentino, Barton; first ace, Joe Kelly, Princeton.