By Scott Prater
First Lt. Kristina Stewart has taken a few weeks off from her duties as 3rd Space Operations Squadron mission planning and engineering section chief, to play a little volleyball.
Actually, she’ll play more than just a little after earning a spot on the All-Air Force Women’s Volleyball team last week.
Stewart will join 10 of her fellow Airmen and take on teams from Army, Navy/Coastguard and Marines in the All-Armed Forces Women’s Volleyball tournament today through Tuesday at Great Lakes Naval Station, Ill.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a volleyball court,” Stewart said after enduring three grueling days of tryouts. “I haven’t lived and breathed volleyball like this since my days at the [U.S. Air Force] Academy.”
Stewart, an Arizona native, admits she was oblivious about military service while she was a high school and club volleyball standout during the mid-2000s. Then one day she noticed two people in Air Force uniforms sitting in the stands during one of her matches.
“I thought, ‘Who are they and what are they doing here?’” she said.
Scott Nelson, a former assistant Academy volleyball coach, was one of those people in uniform that day. He introduced himself and invited Stewart to visit the campus in Colorado Springs.
“Most of what we saw in Kristina was leadership and attitude,” Nelson recalls. “You need peer leadership to bring a team together and we knew she was that kind of person.”
For Stewart, Academy turned out to be a perfect fit. She was drawn to the structure of Academy life and liked the challenge presented by one of the nation’s top academic schools [ranked No. 10 by Forbes in 2011].
“Most of my friends stayed in Arizona,” she said. “I wanted to do something different and it’s kind of funny, but I remember my eighth grade teacher telling me I would do well at a service academy.”
She made up her mind the day she visited and couldn’t imagine playing college volleyball anywhere else.
Following a storied collegiate career in which she started all four years, was named team most valuable player [junior year] and team captain [senior year], Stewart finished among the top 10 in all-time Academy history for attack attempts and digs [Division-I era].
She went on to accept a commission and is now in her second year in 3 SOPS. Though eligible to tryout for a spot on the All-Air Force team soon after entering active duty,
Stewart said training and Air Force commitments have taken precedence above volleyball. Now that she’s able to compete, she relishes the opportunity.
Nelson, now director of the physical education division at Academy, believes Stewart will make the Air Force team better.
“I’m not surprised she made the team,” he said. “Though she played outside hitter at USAFA, she was an experienced middle hitter in high school and that helped her with shot selection at the Division-I level. It will help her with the All-Air Force team too. She’ll fit in great and they’ll have a promising shot at winning gold with her in the line up.”
During the All-Armed Forces tournament, Air Force will match up against each opponent twice, with the winner decided by best record.
Tournament coaches will then select an All-Armed Forces team to represent the U.S. military at the Conseil International du Sport Militaire, or World Military Championships, July 10-17 in Amsterdam.
“Players chosen to play on the Armed Forces team will stay and train another week in Illinois before traveling to Amsterdam,” she said. “I have no idea what my chances are of making the Armed Forces team because the selection process favors the winning team at the tournament, but it would be fun to travel and play for the U.S. My squadron commander and 3 SOPS have been very supportive. I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks.”