Each morning, 11 women have trickled into the gym with sleepy eyes and bed heads, ready to train. The short shorts and kneepads gave away that these Airmen were volleyball players. They have had just over a week to practice together and form a cohesive Air Force Women’s Volleyball team before competing with other services in the 2012 All-Armed Forces Women’s Volleyball tournament at Naval Air Station Great Lakes, Ill., June 21-26.
The team is composed of women from seven different bases and 11 career fields, ranging in rank from airman 1st class to captain. Each athlete submitted an Air Force Form 303, which is a request for U.S. Air Force specialized sports training, and received approval through their chain of command to attend the training camp and participate in the championship tournament.
“I feel fortunate that I’m on the team,” said 2nd Lt. Juliah Hansen, a military training officer from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. “It’s so interesting to play with everybody from different careers and different ranks, but we all have the Air Force and volleyball in common.”
Most of the players heard about the program from other passionate volleyballers and through acquaintances. Senior Airman Melissa Deardorff from the 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., was deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, last fall, and met someone who had previously played on a European team.
“He saw me play and said I was good, and thought I should put my [form] 303 in to play. So I filled it out and gave it to him, and he gave it to the right people who needed it,” she said.
Another member of the team had known about the program but wasn’t able to previously participate due to work requirements.
“I’ve been trying to play on the team for four years,” said Capt. Elizabeth Hoeltje from the 31th Force Support Squadron at Aviano Air Base, Italy. “This is the first time I’ve been able to. I feel honored to be selected. It’s really amazing to represent the Air Force and do something I love at the same time.”
A shared link between all the team members is a passion for the sport. The head coach, Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Barrows from the 124th Fighter Wing at Gowen Field, Idaho, is no exception.
“It takes a very smart player because of all the strategy. It’s challenging,” he said. “I enjoy the women’s team because it builds self confidence and gives them strength through the bonds they form with their teammates.”
Capt. Sally To, of the 97th Medical Support Squadron at Altus Air Force Base, Okla., echoed the coach’s sentiment. “Volleyball brings out the spirit of motivation, teamwork and leadership in the girls you play with. The people you play with might change, but the heart of why you play never does.”
Second Lt. Sarah Wallentine, from the Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., started playing volleyball as a child and continued to play college club volleyball while pursuing an engineering degree at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.
“I started playing volleyball at 6 years old. My dad took me out in the front yard and started throwing volleyballs at me and teaching me the fundamental skills,” she said. “I love volleyball because it’s been a part of me since I was so young. I can’t image a life without it.”
As well as being passionate for the sport, all of the women are excited to represent the Air Force in a different way, while possibly winning the armed forces tournament.
“I played for the team last year, and during the first game of the tournament, I went down with a knee injury,” said Capt. Virginia Aguilar, from the 97th MSS at Altus AFB. “I’ve been working hard this past year, so I could come back and help my team win gold.”
Despite diverse backgrounds, each player has the same unified goal of being the best team possible. To follow the progress of the Air Force Women’s Volleyball team during the tournament, visit Airman magazine on Facebook at www.facebook.com/#!/AirmanMagazine.