Bulldogs take NCAA court vs. BYU this evening

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When the Barton College men’s volleyball team steps onto the floor of St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio, for Tuesday’s NCAA Division I-II national quarterfinal against Brigham Young University, 1,935 days will have elapsed since the program first struck a ball in intercollegiate competition.

Senior setter Federico Pagliara has seen most of those days in the program. Even as Barton owns the No. 6 seed as the automatic-qualifying representative from Conference Carolinas — the first and only all-Division II men’s volleyball league — Pagliara assured that the Bulldogs (23-5) aren’t content with just soaking in the atmosphere and quietly departing.

“We’re not just happy to be there,” Pagaliara said. “I really believe we can surprise anyone up there. Because we took George Mason to five (sets) already. We showed up to Ohio State without three starters and still competed, and I think we belong up there. I seriously believe we can do well, compete and, from there, see what happens.”

The Barton-BYU winner faces No. 2 Long Beach State in Thursday’s semifinal.

Tuesday night’s NCAA tournament appearance will actually be the second appearance and third match for the Bulldogs in St. John Arena this season. Barton played in the Ohio State Invitational in late January and dropped 3-0 decisions to the host Buckeyes and Saint Francis. Those outcomes were realized without Pagliara, sophomore Aleksa Brkovic and freshman Angelos Mandilaris in the lineup. Against the defending national champions in Ohio State, depleted Barton held leads in two sets and threatened to claim the opener before bowing 25-21, 25-14, 25-17.

This time, it is expected to be all systems go for the Bulldogs with the aforementioned three starters back in the fold.

Yet a match-up with the third-seeded Cougars (24-4) will be anything but easy. BYU, the national runner-up from last season, earned a bid into the six-team field as an at-large team after losing to Hawaii in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals.

“They have good size and they’re pretty athletic,” Barton head coach Jeff Lennox said of the Cougars. “I think we have decent size and we’re pretty athletic too, though. And I think at this point in the season, all teams are good and all coaches are good. I don’t think anyone is going to overlook us. I think that’s kind of foolish. But I do think an advantage we have is only we know how good we really are.”

BYU’s attack is led by the trio of Jake Langlois, Brenden Sander and Ben Patch. Patch leads the Cougars with an average of 4.51 kills per set, with Langlois (3.83) and Sander (2.87) following. The offense runs through setter Leo Durkin and his 10.55 assists per set.

Barton, winners of nine in a row, counter with the sibling combination of sophomore Vasilis Mandilaris and freshman Angelos Mandilaris. Vasilis, who was named an honorable mention All-America by the American Volleyball Coaches Association on Monday, converts at the rate of 3.32 kills per set. Angelos, the Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year, leads the team at a 3.45 kills per set clip.

Live stats and video for the 6 p.m. match will be available at http://www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com/sports/m-volley/spec-rel/ncaa-championship-2017.html.