By Scott Prater
The initial stages of volleyball matches have been a problem for 4th Space Operations Squadron this season. Starting slow and playing down to competition was something co-captains Doug Hale and Jeremy Brown have struggled to remedy since the first day of practice.
Judging by March 31’s lopsided victory over the 50th Space Communications Squadron in the semifinal round of the Schriever Intramural League volleyball tournament, it seems the pair of captains may have figured out how to psyche their team up.
4th SOPS jumped out of the gate in stride against 50th SCS and kept pouring on the gas in a 25-14, 25-9 victory. The win gave 4th SOPS its 10th straight victory and propelled the team into a match up with 2nd SOPS for the league championship.
“I’ll be honest, I think we have the best talent in the league, but we have a tendency to play at the level of the team we’re competing against,” Hale said. “We usually start slow and then have to catch up at the end, I don’t know why that is, but our focus today was starting strong.”
50th SCS entered with a couple of intimidating hitters in Randy Hillsgrove and Jeremy Hall. The team kept the game close for the first 12 points as Hall picked his spots for clear winners and Hillsgrove controlled the middle of the court.
Hale set an example for his teammates, however, with two straight kills to lead 4th SOPS on 4-0 run, then setter Steve Notolli took over. Notolli smashed two kills down the line then rotated to the back row and began zinging bullets at the 50th SCS defense. He served for four straight points, including two aces as 4th SOPS pulled away en route to a 25-14 win.
“We’ve just never played to our potential,” Hillsgrove said. “We can play really well in spurts, but can’t seem to maintain it. And that was pretty much our season. If we could maintain our passion we could hurt people, but we just have so many times where we get caught flat footed and out of sync.”
4th SOPS displayed its depth and well-rounded line up in the second game as Cory Garcia claimed his turf at the middle of the net and Tommy Roberts ramped up his serving arm. Roberts rotated to the back row with 4th SOPS up 3-1 and promptly served for the next eight points.
Garcia read his opposing hitters well and managed to get a hand on most everything above the net.
“At that point, we had psychologically broken them,” Hale said. “I think we were really on, especially with our passing, but Cory (Garcia) either blocked or killed four or five in a row there.”
In the day’s second semifinal, defending league and tournament champions, 2nd SOPS, advanced to the final after beating 22nd SOPS 25-21, 25-20.
The matchup presents 4th SOPS with a chance to exact revenge on the team that knocked it out of the post-season tournament last year.
“They have a lot of skill on that team,” Hale said. “Communication is going to be key for us, especially when they have three hitters on the front row.”