By Scott Prater
Jeremy Brown and his 4th Space Operations Squadron teammates had waited a year for retribution.
Upon reading this season’s schedule, Brown circled March 16 as the day of reckoning – the day 4th SOPS could exact a little revenge on the team that had knocked them out of the intramural volleyball playoffs last year.
4th SOPS’ 25-12, 23-25, 16-14 victory Monday was a tad bittersweet, however, considering 2nd SOPS played the match minus two of its best players. But, it was victory nonetheless and 4th SOPS exited with its unbeaten record intact.
“They beat us in the (playoff tournament) semifinals last year,” Brown said. “So we have been gearing up for this match all season. “Beating 2nd SOPS was one of our goals at the beginning. Unfortunately, their entire team wasn’t here, so we’ll have to wait for the tournament.”
Heath Bushe and James McLarty, two of 2nd SOPS’ starting hitters, were officiating a junior tournament, so they missed perhaps the premier matchup of the regular season.
Despite the depleted lineup, 2nd SOPS was hardly weaponless. Ken Tietz and Bill Witwicki provided the hitting power in 2nd SOPS’ offense, and nearly led the team to its seventh straight win.
“Those guys have played forever; I mean, since dirt has been around,” said 2nd SOPS captain, Ross Wetmore. “Bill Witwicki played in college and Ken has been recovering from a calf injury, but he’s a veteran as well. So they have a lot of experience, and it shows.”
Brown and fellow hitter Dan Schwarz didn’t take long to warm up. The two 4th SOPS hitters drove kills from both sides. That kept 2nd SOPS’ blockers guessing and helped 4th SOPS build an insurmountable lead in the first game. Schwarz registered five kills during 4th SOPS’ 13-5 first-game run and Tyler Kimes capped a 25-12 win by pounding a 2nd SOPS overpass at his opponents’ feet.
What looked like a dominating victory quickly turned in the second game however, as 2nd SOPS rallied behind Tietz and Witwicki.
“I’ll take the loss in the second game,” Brown said. “I wanted to give some playing time to some of our other players, so I changed our lineup around. We switched back to our starting lineup midway through the game.”
Marcie Roberts started the second game with a service ace while Brown and Schwarz both recorded kills, but veteran 2nd SOPS hitter Jeff Harvey ignited his team with a couple of well-placed hits off of 4th SOPS blockers.
Harvey hit three straight service winners to put 2nd SOPS up 17-13 and Brown took a hard shot off his noggin as 2nd SOPS pulled away for a hard-fought 25-23 win.
Tietz and Witwicki found their groove in the second game, then drove 2nd SOPS’ momentum in the third.
“We gained a lot of confidence from the second game and just tried to bring it to them hard in the third,” Wetmore said.
4th SOPS diversified its attack as Tommy Roberts and Steve Nottoli joined the fray. Nottoli, who also doubles as one of 4th SOPS setters, pounded three kills from the left side in the deciding game while Roberts won key points with some well-timed dinks and cross-court winners.
Tietz and Witwicki traded blocks and kills with Brown and Schwarz for most of game three as neither team could manage more a than two-point lead. Witwicki gave 2nd SOPS the lead at 14-13, but Roberts answered to tie the game and Schwarz put 4th SOPS up 15-14 with a deep winner down the line.
Game point turned out to be anti-climatic. A long, fairly soft, rally ended with a 2nd SOPS miss-hit into the net.
“We’ve got to tighten our blocking and be more cognizant of dinks, but this was our biggest challenge so far, and I think we communicated well, which is something we pride ourselves on,” 4th SOPS leader Doug Hale said. “We’ll go forward and get ready for 22 SOPS, (the only other undefeated team in the league) this week.”