Lady Bulldogs survive Limestone in 5 sets to reach Conference Carolinas semifinals

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As the two-time defending champion in NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas, the Barton College women’s volleyball team has spent a good portion of 2018 learning the journey to a three-peat isn’t so easy.

The Lady Bulldogs ended the regular season second in the North Division behind Belmont Abbey and encountered a Limestone College squad Tuesday night intent on dethroning the queens in the quarterfinal round of the Conference Carolinas tournament.

But in front of its home crowd in Wilson Gym, Barton lived to play in the semifinals the hard way.

The Lady Bulldogs erased three match points in the deciding fifth set and overcame the emotional toll of losing an exhaustive second set in toughing out a 25-18, 32-34, 19-25, 25-18, 18-16 victory.

Barton, the No. 2 seed from the North Division, returned to the .500 mark overall at 15-15 and visits South Division champion Emmanuel College in one of two Saturday semifinals. It will be the first time the Lions have hosted a Conference Carolinas “final four” setting since becoming eligible for postseason play this year.

Limestone, the No. 3 seed from the South, ended its season at 12-13.

“We needed to learn how to be tough, and that was our main focus over the last couple of days,” Barton head coach Jeff Lennox said. “We wanted to set a good tempo and just an example for us and who we think we are. I think Limestone showed up and just played so awesome that we had no choice but to be really tough.”

Barton, which barely outhit the Saints .131-.125 over the five-set affair, trailed by four points on two occasions in the fifth set and found itself down 13-11 before rallying to tie 13-13. The teams traded the next six points, leading to a kill from senior outside hitter Haley Headley to put Barton on its third and final match point.

That’s where freshman libero Anna Thompson, originally inserted by Lennox as a serving specialist, turned in the dig of the year for the Lady Bulldogs.

With Limestone’s Ashley Owen eyeing a tip for the ninth tie of the final set, Thompson sprawled to the floor and kept it alive for Allie Cullens, who set it for freshman Sarah Kirk. Kirk’s clinching kill finished the exhaustive proceedings.

“I saw the tip go over, and I was about to reach back,” Kirk said. “But I’ve always been taught to let the libero player get the tip, so I let (Thompson) go under and get it. And then when Allie (Cullens) set it up, I’m not going to lie, I lost it in the light a little and I just put a good swing on it and I tried to go deep corner — where we’ve been taught to go.”

Sophomore Kaytlin Elkins finished with 31 kills for the Lady Bulldogs, while Headley had 13 kills. Elkins pushed her league-leading kill total to 491.

Senior setter Angelica Acevedo tallied 44 assists.

The second set, won by Limestone 34-32, featured 17 ties and 12 lead changes before the Saints came away with the tie. Limestone forged a 2-1 lead with a 25-19 win in the third set before the Lady Bulldogs pulled off their thrilling rally — a satisfying result for Lennox in a year of eye-opening challenges.

“It’s been challenging because I think we thought it was going to be easy,” Lennox said of a three-peat. “And it took us too long to realize that it’s not going to be easy; it’s going to be really tough. Satisfying, because we toughened up tonight and that was a really, really tough match. Limestone played great. We had to be tough, there was no way around it.”