BRISTOL, Tenn. – It may not always be pretty, but coaches can't complain when they win conference matches. The King University women's volleyball got off to a slow start on Friday night, but got a spark from Lauren Willoughby off the bench to come back and defeat Barton College 3-1 at the Student Center Complex.
King (28-4, 16-1 CC) fell behind early in the first set, and were never able to recover as Barton took the frame 25-19 to take a lead in the match. The Bulldogs (13-13, 9-8 CC) scored the first two points of the second set as well, but Maribeth Kern and Summer Kremer sparked the Tornado offense with back-to-back kills. Kern followed with an ace to give King a slim 3-2 advantage. King then scored seven of the next nine points to take a 10-4 lead a force a Bulldog timeout.
However, Baron came back and took a 14-13 lead before Willoughby ignited the offense with her first kill of the match. With the score knotted at 16, Olivia Underwood gave King the lead for good with one of her four kills in the match to start a 7-1 run that was capped by a pair of Blair Fields service aces. Willoughby gave King a shot at match point before Jordan Baty hammered home a thunderous kill that brought the Student Center crowd to their feet as King evened the match with the 25-19 win.
The offense continued to roll behind Willoughby in the third frame as she registered six kills in the set. Kelsey Griffitts scored the first point of the set with one of her nine kills in the match, and Grace Underwood gave King a 9-4 lead with a service ace. The score was again tied late in the set, this time at 15 when the Tornado gained separation. Willoughby and Baty teamed up for consecutive kills, giving King an 18-15 lead, and forcing a Barton timeout. Fields served up a pair of aces after the break to cap the 5-0 spurt as King took the frame 25-18.
The King offense only improved in the fourth set as they hit a match-best .414 in the final set. The Tornado jumped out to an early 7-3 lead as Olivia Underwood forced a Barton timeout with a kill. Willoughby sparked a 5-1 run with another kill before Griffitts, Olivia Underwood and Kremer all hammered home consecutive kills to force Barton's second timeout of the set trailing 17-9. Kremer capped the run with a kill out of the break as the Tornado cruised to the 25-14 set win to take the match 3-1.
Kremer led King with 15 kills, including six in the decisive set. Both Griffitts and Willoughby chipped in with nine kills apiece while Baty accounted for five kills off the bench. Olivia Underwood dished out a match-high 37 assists while Payton Tipton led King with 17 digs. Casey Williams also reached double figures in digs with 10.
With the win, King moves to 16-1 in Conference Carolinas play with one match left. The Tornado take on Mount Olive College at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday in Student Center Complex with a chance to clinch a share of their first conference title since 2008, and first since joining Conference Carolinas. The Tornado close the regular season with a match against Virginia Intermont College at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday in the Student Center Complex.