The Barton Community College volleyball team opened up the Region VI playoffs with a 25-15, 25-23, and 23-18 sweep of Cloud County Community College Tuesday night at the Barton Gym. Avenging a season ending sweep to the T-Birds last year in Concordia, the Cougars controlled most of the match behind fifteen blocks and a .360 attack percentage in terminating Cloud County's season at 13-20. Improving to 24-9 on the season, Barton advances to the final four taking on top seeded Hutchinson Community College in Sunday's 2:00 p.m. semifinal at the Hutchinson Sports Arena, with the winner advancing to the 6:00 p.m. championship match.
"The girls came out with the mindset of avenging last year's season ending loss at Cloud County," said Head Coach Brandon Stephenson. "Our focus was productive and our mental state was good from the start through the finish."
Barton broke away from a 9-all tie going on a 7-0 run, interrupted five points in the stretch by a Cloud County timeout, in building a seven point lead. The T-Birds battled back with four of their own cutting the deficit to three, but coming out of the Barton timeout the Cougars regained the momentum scoring five of the next six forcing the burning of the T-Bird's second timeout. It did little to slow down the onslaught as Barton took the next four in finishing the set winning seven of the final eight points with Olivia Naccarato proving the knock-out kill of the 25-15 victory.
In the previous two meetings of the teams this season, Barton had taken the first set only to have Cloud County battle back by taking the second. Things appeared headed for much of the same as the T-Birds broke the eleventh tie of the set going ahead 23-22. Unfortunately for Cloud County, Barton wasn't about to give away the set so easily as Averie Warehime's kill to the back line clinched the Cougars' three straight points to steal the set 25-23.
With the season on the brink, the T-Birds seemed to have new life scoring five of six points leading to a 16-14 edge before things unraveled. Coming out of the Barton timeout after Cloud County had scored three straight to take the lead, the Cougars responded with five straight of their own including a Leah Fisher "excuse me" service ace off the top of the net regaining the lead at 19-16 forcing the T-Birds to burn their final timeout. With two service errors being the only blemish for the remaining of the set, Barton scored six of the last eight to capture the match with a 25-18 score.
"Obviously the playoff win feels really good," said Stephenson. "But we still need to work on some things and get our mental focus back to have success on Sunday."
Naccarato and Nathalia Gouveia led the balanced attack with eleven kills each with Naccarato's .421 efficiency coming on nineteen swings while also leading the Cougars with six blocks. Giving Barton a two-headed monster with seventeen kills from the middle of the court, Warehime contributed six of those on nine swings for an unblemished .667 efficiency. Setter Carolina Goncalves, who recorded four kills on six attempts, finished with thirty-one of the Cougars' thirty-nine assists. Lydia Konrade led a balanced defensive backfield finishing with eight digs with Gouveia and Goncalves each finishing with seven.
Barton ran their home court advantage over the T-Birds to 23-2 as the only two losses came in the 2014 and 2015 season and improved the overall series record to 67-9.
The victory was number 1415 in the storied Barton Volleyball history against just 338 losses in program's thirty-seven years of competition.