Barton batters UMO in long-awaited home opener

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Seventeen matches into the 2018 season, the Barton College women’s volleyball team finally made an appearance before an energetic crowd in Wilson Gymnasium on Tuesday night.

The previous 17 encounters, including a season-opening sojourn to Alaska, yielded a 5-11 record. But over the weekend, the Lady Bulldogs returned to familiar terrain inside NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas, where the program has ruled with an iron fist over the last two seasons by winning the regular season and tournament titles.

Archrival University of Mount Olive (2-10, 0-2 CC) did nothing to impede the journey for a three-peat.

Sophomore Kaytlin Elkins had half of Barton’s 44 kills, and the service game of the Lady Bulldogs (6-11, 3-0 CC) ruled the court en route to an easy 25-10, 25-17, 25-12 victory.

“I don’t know who made the schedule,” seventh-year Barton head coach Jeff Lennox deadpanned. “We wanted to be on the road. We wanted to get out and travel and see as much as we could. Different styles of play, and unfortunately, our home match that we had earlier (Sept. 19 versus Chowan) got postponed because of the hurricane. So we finally found our way to Sept. 25, and found our way home.”

Indeed, Wilson Gym turned into the location of a serving clinic from the Lady Bulldogs. Two lengthy stints from the back line by senior setter Angelica Acevedo defined the opening set, as the Lady Bulldogs only trailed on four occasions in the entire match.

As a team, the Lady Bulldogs were guilty of just two service errors and produced 14 aces. Acevedo’s work from the back line turned a 2-2 affair into a 7-2 Barton lead in the opening set, and once she returned with an 18-10 lead, she didn’t depart until back-to-back kills by senior Haley Headley gave the Lady Bulldogs the first set.

Freshman Sarah Kirk led Barton with four aces in a balanced serving effort. Even when aces weren’t hitting the floor, Barton’s effectiveness was reflected in UMO’s difficulty in serve receive. That allowed multiple free balls back across the net, where Elkins, the reigning Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year, and company remained in wait. Barton parlayed its efficiency into a healthy .302 percentage on the attack. Headley had seven kills, with senior middle blocker Allie Cullens adding six.

“I think the main thing is, the girls feel confident,” Lennox said of the return to conference play. “And when you feel confident, and you can control the things you want to control. I thought we did an awesome job serving tonight. That’s the serving team I know we can be — low, flat and fast. The girls just had a ton of confidence at the service line, and it was fun to watch.”

The latest Barton trailed was at 6-2 and 7-6 in the second set. However, that was erased by a 6-0 spurt from Kirk, including an ace that caught every bit of the net cord before falling in.

Redshirt senior Riley Bane, a product of Fike High, used her soft serves to set up Elkins and boost the Lady Bulldogs to a 17-11 advantage. An Elkins kill yielded a 20-14 Barton edge, and her service exploits put the Lady Bulldogs on set point at 24-14. Elkins, who added a pair of aces, finished off a set-clinching kill from Acevedo’s assist to take a 2-0 lead.

Acevedo had 25 assists, with Kirk, a potential heir to the former, notching double-digit assists with 10.

“It was really easy,” Elkins said of the Lady Bulldogs’ offense. “Especially with our serving being so good, that they were just sending easy balls back over. And we were just killing them.”

The Lady Bulldogs hit at .308 in the final set, and the serving of sophomore Ashley Owen and freshman Brittany Silance sparked the hosts to a 19-9 lead. One of sophomore Cameron Frederick’s four kills ended the match.

“We had confidence that we knew where we wanted to serve,” Lennox said. “We didn’t serve with just speed, we served with good location and those were the two things that we needed to do.”

UMO was held to an .082 attacking percentage and notched just 20 kills. Ania Keene and Makayla Huber had five kills each to lead the Lady Trojans.

A new threat to the Lady Bulldogs looms in both the regular-season and postseason with Emmanuel College now eligible for Conference Carolinas tournament play. The Lady Lions sit at 4-0 and lead the league’s South Division.

“It’s exciting. Because everybody’s going to push us harder because they want to beat us more because we’ve won two years in a row. So it’s a lot of fun.”

However, fans will have limited opportunities to get in on said fun. Tuesday’s match is the first of just seven regular-season matches at Wilson Gym, plus any home matches in postseason play.