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Air Force Men, Navy Women Take Armed Forces Volleyball Crowns

By Walt Johnson
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2005 – The Air Force men and the Navy women volleyball teams captured the 2005 Armed Forces Volleyball Championship here May 16.

Both established themselves as the teams to beat in their respective divisions by posting perfect 3-0 marks after the first half of the tournament.

Morris Davis, Navy women's head coach, said his team kept the same attitude it had coming into the tournament after it was able to win the first three games. He said his veteran team knew that it was a long way from winning the interservice gold medals.

"We knew from the time we started training camp that it was going to take a lot of hard work to win the championship," he said. "We knew Air Force was a really strong team and we were going to have to make some adjustments, even though we beat them in the first round."

While the Air Force men's team would cruise to the championship, the Navy women's team had to withstand a furious rally by the Air Force women's team to earn its title. Davis said his team's veteran savvy helped them to battle back from what became a titanic struggle between the Air Force and Navy women's teams.

The championship tournament began with the same match-up that would end the tournament for the women's side, Navy meeting Air Force. Navy dropped the first game to the Air Force 25-21 and then came back to win 25-16, 25-16 and 25-22. It would be Navy's only action of the first day of competition, but it gave them a leg up on succeeding the Army team as women's champions.

In the second game involving women's teams on the first day of action, the Marines defeated the defending champion Army team 25-18, 25-14, 22-25 and 26-24. The victory for the Marines was significant, because this was the first time in two years the Marines have been able to field a women's team because of service commitments. While they did not have the best team the Marines could have fielded, Marines coach Peter Cruz said, he brought a team determined to be a factor in this year's tournament.

Defeating the defending champions on the first day proved this team was going to have to be taken seriously and it showed the women's half of the tournament would be hotly contested.

After losing to the Marines, the defending champion Army team found itself in a must-win situation against an Air Force team that was smarting from the lost to the Navy in the first match of the tournament. Army gave it a great effort, but the Air Force was able to pull off a 25-20, 25-22, 25-20 victory.

On the men's side, the Air Force began its run to the title by defeating the Navy 25-23, 25-17, 22-25 and 25-22. After the Army defeated the Marines in five matches -- 12-25, 22-25, 25-21, 25-19 and 25-17 -- Army was in a position to take control of the tournament if it could beat Air Force.

Air Force had other thoughts, and pulled out a four-match victory (25-21, 25-23, 17-25 and 25-18) to finish the first night of the tournament undefeated.

Both the Air Force men and Navy women tightened their grip on the tournament on the second day of action. The Air Force men defeated the Marines to take a 3-0 record into the third day of the tournament, while the Navy women followed up their first-round win over Air Force with wins over the Marines and Army to also take a 3-0 lead into the third day.

The third day of the tournament could have been the day both the Air Force men and Navy women put the championship away, but the other service teams were in no mood to let the eventual champions win it so soon.

Air Force's women's team knew the only way it could win the armed forces title was to beat the Navy as the second round of the tournament began. Because the Navy and Air Force teams looked like they would be too strong and talented for the Army and Marines to beat, the Air Force team could not rely on the other service teams to beat the Navy. Air Force responded to the challenge by winning a four-set thriller (26-24, 25-22, 20-25, 15-7) to give each team a 3-1 record.

"The first time we played them, we caught them a little off guard. This time they were ready for us and it forced us to make some adjustments in our lineup," Davis said.

The Air Force's team could have put a stranglehold on the men's title if it could defeat the Navy men. After going through the first round undefeated and watching the other service teams knock each other off, Air Force, with a victory would have mathematically wrapped the championship. Malu Segai, Air Force men's team head coach, said winning the championship was the goal from the beginning for his team, and it was right there for the taking.

"From the time the players arrived at the training camp in Hawaii, we told them our goal was to win the interservice championship," he said. "We had a very young team this year, but they quickly realized what it would take to win the tournament."

But Navy wasn't about to let the young Air Force team wrap up the title. The Navy team played its best game of the tournament and beat the Air Force team in five sets (25-20, 21-25, 25-18, 18-25, 15-8). In the nightcap of second round action, the Army teams defeated the Marine teams, setting up third day action that would determine how the tournament would finish.

On the women's side, Air Force and Navy each defeated their opponents, the Army and the Marines respectively, to ensure each would go into the final day's action with 4-1 records. On the men's side, Air Force defeated the Army to push its record to 4-1 and assure itself of at least a tie for the title going into the last round of the tournament.

The victory also gave Army its second loss of the tournament, and after the Navy won its match, gave each team an identical 3-2 record going into the final day of action. On the final day, the Air Force men had a simple mission: win its game against the Marines to succeed Navy as the armed forces champions. While a loss would not have ended the Air Force hopes of winning the title, it would have forced it into a playoff match against either the Navy or Army, because the winner of the Army-Navy game would have a 4-2 record that would have been similar to the Air Force.

Air Force didn't leave anything to chance defeating the Marines 25-16, 25-14 and 25-19 to wrap up the championship.

The Air Force women's team had a different mission as it entered action on the final day. The Air Force team had to beat a gritty and determined Marines team and then see if Army could upset Navy and give it the championship.

Air Force did its part by defeating the Marines 25-15, 25-22 and 25-19 to finish the regular phase of the tournament with a 5-1 record. Now the tournament would come down to what happened between the Navy and Army in both men's and women's action.

The first match would pit the Army and Navy women's team in a game that would determine whether the Air Force women's team won the title outright or if there would be a playoff between the Air Force and Navy to decide the title. The Army team wanted to salvage what had been a disappointing tournament for them by beating Navy, but the Navy team was just as determined to force the playoff round. Navy defeated the Army team 25-14, 25-16 and 25-12 to set up a playoff with Air Force to settle the title.

With the Air Force men's victory over the Marines, the Army-Navy game was the battle for the silver medal, which each team wanted badly. In what was a hard-fought battle Navy defeated the Army 25-24, 25-19 and 25-22 to capture the silver medal.

Air Force came into the playoff the more rested team, having played in the morning session while the Navy had only a two-hour break before having to play in the best two-of-three playoff. Air Force took advantage of the rest it got by winning the first game of the match 25-16, and it looked like Navy may not have enough to put up a challenge. Suddenly, the Navy team got a surge of adrenaline and beat the Air Force team 25-16 to even the championship playoffs at one game apiece.

Now each team had a one-game shot to win the championship, and each team played like champions, thrilling the crowd at the Fort Carson Special Events Center with clutch play after clutch play.

Navy and Air Force took turns getting three-point leads, and just when it seemed like one team would put a stranglehold on the game, the other team would come back and tie the game or take a one-point lead.

Air Force had the first opportunity to wrap up the title as it took a one-point lead, 14-13, and had the serve to win the contest. Navy won the point and tied the game, setting up a furious 10-minute stretch that saw both teams earn the chance to win the match.

Air Force squandered two chances to put the championship away, and Navy one, before Navy would finally earn the points necessary to win the playoff 19-17 and clinch the championship.

"This could have gone either way," Davis said. "After we got down by one game, I told our players to just relax and play our game of ball control and we should be able to win. This was a really competitive tournament. I like winning, but I like to earn a victory -- and we earned this one, and that was the best thing about this championship."

(Walt Johnson writes for the Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group.)

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