BRISTOL, Tenn. – Adrian Lopez and Matthew Lychock combined for 17 block assists in King's defensive stand that turned a 2-1 deficit into a thrilling 3-2 victory over visiting Lees-McRae College. The Tornado forced a fifth game and broke four set points before willing their way to an 18-16 fifth set win, clinching the match for their first Conference Carolinas victory of the season.
After winning the race to eight points in the fifth set and swapping sides of the court, Bobcat hitter Javier Jimenez posted a pair of kills to help Lees-McRae take a 12-11 lead and force King to take its first timeout of the set. Matt Harpenau tossed up an ace but followed with an error from the service line to keep the LMC advantage at one point.
Serving specialist Justin Crane came in off of the bench to take to the service line but reigning Conference Carolinas Men's Volleyball Player of the Week returned with his ninth kill of the evening to force the Bobcats' first match point.
Middle blocker Matthew Harper (Matoaca, Va.) continued his strong showing off of the bench when out of a King timeout the sophomore tallied his second of four kills in the set. He scored three more kills in the waning parts of the final set to serve as King's main offensive threat in the decisive frame.
Harper helped break Lees-McRae's second match point attempt with another authoritative kill, tying the set, 15-15. John Lucas helped LMC regain a 16-15 lead and forced King to face another into another do-or-die moment. For the second straight match point, Harper rallied with kill to tie the set at 16 all. At that moment, King gained the momentum needed to finish off the Bobcats when senior Michael Koebel (Richmond, Va.) gave King its last lead, 17-16, before the trio of Adrian Lopez, Matthew Lychock, and Zach Prexta swarmed the net to block Matt Harpenau's attack attempt and clinch an 18-16 set win and earn their first Conference Carolinas victory of the season over their rivals from Banner Elk, N.C.
The Tornado notched 6.5 blocks in the fifth set, the most of any single game in the match between the two sides. As the team hit the 10-point mark in the final set, King already had six block assists and one solo block by setter Ashton Hippenstiel (Yucaipa, Calif.).
Leading up to the decisive final frame, King trailed 2-1 after the Bobcats hit at high rates in the second and third games of the match. Lees-McRae took a two-to-one game lead after hitting a combined .389 in their 25-22 and 25-20 victories. Matt Harpenau and Javier Jimenez both had seven kills over that two-game span.
King dominated the fourth set which began to shift the momentum of the match toward the Navy and Scarlett side. The Tornado built as many as a seven-point lead when they recorded three blocks and were led by three kills by Michael Koebel to take an 11-4 lead. They did not relent and never led by fewer than six points from that moment on. The Tornado hit .375 as a team in the frame and committed only two errors.
Adrian Lopez (Houston, Texas) had a career night at the net by leading the team with 10 block assists. Of those, five were in the fourth and fifth set to help lead King to the win. He also hit .500 on the attack on 6-of-10 attempts with one error.
Michael Koebel led King with 11 kills on 32 attempts (.250). He chipped in two of the Tornado's 37 block assists. Matthew Lychock (Las Vegas, Nev.) claimed seven block assists from the middle blocker position and added six kills. Matthew Harper came into the match for the fourth and fifth sets. In that short time he tallied six kills and four block assists to help seal the victory for King.
Though Lees-McRae tallied seven team blocks, four solo, King dominated the net by recording 37 block assists and one solo across the participating roster.
Also aiding in King's comeback victory was the Bobcats' lack of efficiency at the service line. Lees-McRae committed 23 service errors to help King stay within reach and ultimately overcome the deficit. Conversely, King committed only 10 service errors and had seven aces.
Lees-McRae (1-1, 1-1 Conference Carolinas) had four players finish in double figures for kills, despite the loss. Javier Jimenez led the Bobcats with 18 kills on 31 attempts (.290). John Lucas (13), Matt Harpenau (11), and Brady Markle (10) all had 10 or more kills on the night. Markle also led the Bobcats at the net with the team's two solo blocks and two block assists.
The win gives King a clean sweep in the three points on the line toward the inaugural Battle for the Blue Ridge Cup between the two rival schools. Earlier in the week, King men's and women's basketball earned wins over the Bobcats. Coupled with Wednesday night's men's volleyball victory, King holds a 7-2 advantage in the standings with 16 more points to be decided over the course of the athletic season.
King Men's Volleyball now has the distinct honor of having won the first athletic contest after the College announced its official name change to "King University" on Wednesday. This marked the first athletic contest played under the new name just hours after the announcement was released to the public in a press conference held in the Student Center Complex lobby.
The Tornado are now 2-4 overall on the season and are 1-3 in conference play. They play their next two matches on the road against conference opponents Erskine (Jan. 25) and Limestone (Jan. 26) before returning to the Student Center Complex on Feb. 1 to play the Coker Cobras.