By Scott Prater
As many sports teams have come to find out, it’s a rather tough task to beat an opponent twice during tournament play.
For Team Schriever, the volleyball squad made up of players from various intramural teams on base, that task came Saturday during the semifinals of the Rocky Mountain Volleyball Championships at the Fitness Center here.
Team Schriever had outlasted its opponents from the U.S. Air Force Academy in three sets during round-robin play, but had no answer for USAFA’s improved blocking strategy in the tournament semifinal, and fell 25-16, 25-18.
Team USAFA then rode the momentum gained from its semifinal victory into the final, and took Team Peterson to extra points in the third and final game, but eventually succumbed in a marathon 21-25, 25-22, 18-16 defeat.
“These are basically base teams, you don’t generally get that level of competition in intramurals, so its good to get out there and test your mettle,” said Team Schriever captain Korey Kuykendall.
The RMVC pits volleyball teams from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Schriever, Peterson and Buckley Air Force bases against each other in a round-robin format. Teams are then reseeded based on their head-to-head finish and matched up into two semifinals, with the winners advancing to the tournament final.
Kuykendall and fellow Schriever hitters, Heath Busche, Craig Armogida, Doug Hale, Bill Witwicky and Dave Unruh, began the tournament with two consecutive wins over Team Buckley and their opponents from the Academy.
The squad even looked strong during the early stages of its round-robin matchup with Team Peterson until setter Ross Wetmore took a spike to the face from Peterson hitter Eric Parrott. Wetmore appeared simply stunned following the play, but soon began bleeding from the nose, and play had to be suspended for a short time while he worked to stop the flow of blood.
“I saw it coming the entire time,” Wetmore said. “It just came so fast. I had no time to react.”
“He was in the right position and he took one square in the face from a big haus,” Kuykendall added. “In our scheme, it’s the setter’s job to cover the line, and he did it.
Even though Busche didn’t miss a beat after stepping into the team’s setter role, Schriever was never the same.
Peterson rolled on to win handily 25-9, 25-8 as Schriever struggled to pull its new offensive scheme together.
“The big thing was we lost Heath (Busche) as a hitter,” Kuykendall said. “What killed us, though, was our passing. You can’t hope to get a solid set if you don’t pass well from the back row.”
Loaded with hitting talent with likes of Hale, Armogida, Kuykendall and Unruh, Schriever entered the tournament’s playoff phase as the No. 2 seed, and faced USAFA (No. 3 seed) for the right to reach the final.
Wetmore eventually recovered from his bloody nose and once again took the court for the semifinal round, but it was clear in the rematch’s opening points that USAFA had made some key adjustments.
“They (Team Schriever) have some great hitters, but we had some good blocks, especially in that second game where we had to come from behind,” said USAFA captain Tim Filzen. “Our middle, Erin Drake, he had three or four kills there in the last eight points that were key to our win. This team is made up of players from our intramural squads, but we gelled pretty well coming into this tournament. We all know each other and we knew where we could put people to maximize their strengths.”
Drake and Scott Nelson were often perfectly positioned to block Schriever’s hitters and anything that managed to get past them was dug up by Academy’s back row.
“We ended up getting frustrated, because as a hitter, when you absolutely crush the ball and then see your opponents get it back up, it’s kind of demoralizing,” Kuykendall said.
With Academy’s tougher defensive stance becoming clearly evident, Schriever hitters began to spray their attempts, often times launching the ball long, or wide. As a result, Team Academy ended the match on a 10-5 run.
“Academy is a really solid team,” Kuykendall said. “This is the fourth year we’ve played this tournament and they’ve been in the final all four years. Their setter, Tevita Mafi, is a smart experienced player. It’s hard to get a ball on the floor because their defense is so good. There is 900 square feet of court and they covered every inch of it.”
Though Team Schriever finished in third place, Wetmore figured the competition was the best he’s seen in this tournament in years. And, that’s the way all the competitors would prefer to see it.