By Scott Prater
John Baldwin, Steve Bragado and Craig Armogida manned the net for the 22nd Space Operations Squadron. During the Schriever Intramural Volleyball Championship game here May 25, they blocked, tipped, dinked and dug everything their opponents threw at them.
On the other side, Dan Schwarz, Jeremy Edwards and Heath Busche did the same for the 6th Space Operations Squadron. During many volleys, the ball wound up in that space near the top of the net, bouncing from hand to hand, like a pinball between bumpers. Armogida called this phenomenon “volleyball’s trenches” and Baldwin, 22 SOPS coach, was convinced that winning the trench battle paved the way to victory.
Despite a furious second-game rally from 6 SOPS, 22 SOPS completed a perfect 11-0 season with a 25-17, 25-19 win.
“The key is keeping your head in the game and paying attention to what’s going on,” Baldwin said. “A lot of times you get involved and it kind of escapes you. Then the ball ends up dropping right next to you. You’ve got to have the experience, the knowledge and the gumption to stay in the game, then focus on where you need to be. With the experience these guys have, they seem to be in the right place almost accidentally.”
Starting in top form helped 22 SOPS as well. The team opened the first game by winning 10 of the first 13 points.
“I think early on we weren’t quite ready for the hits that came off the blocks,” said 6 SOPS team captain Judy Kelley. “They weren’t burning us with straight hits, but they were placing the ball and getting deflections off our blocks.”
Edwards began to assert himself as the first game progressed and 6 SOPS rallied to make the game interesting midway through. Improved passing from both teams led to extended volleying and smooth transitions. Ultimately, 6 SOPS continued to catch up, but it simply ran out of points. Armogida capped the win with a block and an over-pass kill.
If 6 SOPS had learned anything from game one, it was: don’t fall behind early. Yet, that’s exactly what happened in game two as 22 SOPS took eight of the first 10 points. Kelley abruptly called a time out.
“We had to make an adjustment to our serve-receive strategy,” she said. “We moved Heath [Bushe] from setting to the back row and that worked.”
Thanks to the switch, 6 SOPS surged again. Edwards began drilling cross-court winners and Schwarz mixed in some smart dinks to keep his defenders honest and before they knew it 6 SOPS players had tied the game at 10. However, Armogida and 22 SOPS had an answer.
“One thing about this team is we don’t really get rattled,” Baldwin said. “So when we get down, nobody gets upset. We just keep on playing and pick it up. I wouldn’t say there were any key moments in the match, just a key attitude.”
Baldwin and Bragado earned a couple of important “trench” points as Armogida served for five straight points. Behind Edwards, Schwarz and Busche, 6 SOPS had one final answer, rallying to tie the game at 17.
Korey Kuykendall, who missed much of 22 SOPS’ season as he recovered from an ankle injury, said the most-valuable-player-of-the-tournament trophy should go to Ezra Skinner, who killed any thoughts 6 SOPS had of mounting another rally.
Skinner put 22 SOPS up 22-19 with a thunderous kill down the line, then unleashed an indefensible dipper serve on the game’s final three points.
“He just perfected that serve this year,” Baldwin said. “We had him save it until the end.”