by Doug Page
BANNER ELK, N.C. – For the second-straight season, the Barton College men's volleyball clinched a share of the Conference Carolinas regular season title as the Bulldogs defeated Lees-McRae College 3-0 (25-18, 26-24, 25-15) on Saturday inside Williams Gymnasium.
Barton (19-7, 15-1) will share the regular season league title with King University, who beat the University of Mount Olive 3-0 on Saturday. The Bulldogs and Tornado share the title for a second-straight season as King will enter the Conference Carolinas Tournament as the No. 1 seed after winning a tiebreaker. Barton will the No. 2 seed after falling just short in the percentage of conference sets won. Lees-McRae (3-21, 1-14) played some its best volleyball of the season over the weekend as the Bobcats took Mount Olive to five sets before falling 3-2.
Sophomore Angelos Mandilaris once again paced the Bulldogs with a match-high 14 kills to go along with a .407 kill percentage. Mandilaris delivered three aces to go along with four digs and one solo blocks for BC. Junior Aleksa Brkovic tallied seven kills while adding two aces, two digs, and a pair of block assists. Redshirt sophomore Oscar Fiorentino notched a team-high 26 assists and six digs for the Bulldogs.
Spencer Graf paced the Bobcats with nine kills, while Robert Bowling and Chris Woolslayer each added seven kills for LMC. Michael Wahl delivered a match-high seven digs for Lee-McRae, while Joseph Valadez tallied a match-high 32 assists to go along with seven digs.
The Bulldogs started the match by getting back into the swing of things offensively after having a rough night on Friday against the Tornado. BC hit .412 as a team in the opening set and tallied nine kills compared to just two attack errors. Lees-McRae rallied early in the set to gain some momentum as Bowling and Ethan Gardner sparked a 3-0 run to give the Bobcats a 4-2 lead.
Barton countered by tallying seven of the next 10 points to take a 9-6 advantage in the set. A kill by Brkovic would increase the BC lead to 12-7 before LMC tallied two quick points to trim the deficit to 12-9. Leading 14-11, BC used a 5-1 stretch to take a 19-12 edge in the set and lead to a timeout for the Bobcats. LMC attempted to rally late in the set as Woolslayer recorded a kill followed by an ace to trim the deficit to 23-18.
The Bulldogs would secure the 25-18 victory in the set following a kill from junior Nick Leary and attack error by Bowling. Attacking errors would hurt LMC in the set as the Bobcats tallied eight compared to two for the Bulldogs.
Both teams would hit over .400 in the second set with the Bobcats holding an early lead as a 4-0 rally turned a 2-2 tie into a 6-2 lead for LMC. Trailing 9-5, Barton would make a run of its own as a service error by LMC coupled with consecutive aces from Leary pulled BC within a point of the Bobcats. Senior Michael Perez would knot the score 9-9 with a kill before a service error would give the lead back to the Bobcats.
Timeouts and strategy would come into play late in the set as Barton knotted the score 21-21 following a kill from A. Mandilaris. Out of a timeout called by the Bobcats, LMC would take a 22-21 edge only to see BC quickly even the score once again. A kill by Woolslayer put the Bobcats within a point of potentially knotting the match before the Bulldogs used their final timeout to rally for a 3-0 run and secure a 26-24 victory to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
The momentum would lean towards the Bulldogs early in the third set as Barton used a 5-1 run to force an early timeout from LMC. The Bobcats would trim the deficit to 9-5 before the Bulldogs rattled off five consecutive points to increase the lead to 14-5. The advantage for Barton would expand to 21-10 after an ace from sophomore Noah Harmon but would be countered with a 3-0 run from the Bobcats. Leading 24-15, Brkovic sealed the 25-15 victory for BC with a kill as the Bulldogs completed the 3-0 sweep of the Bobcats.
Barton finishes the regular season with a 19-7 overall record including a 10-1 record inside Wilson Gymnasium. The Bulldogs rattled off 10 straight wins at home after dropping their season opener against Grand Canyon University. The Conference Carolinas Tournament will start with Quarterfinal matches being held at the higher seed on April 17.