Interservice cooperation turned into Air Force domination of military sports scene in Europe in 2010.

With deployments, transformation and budget cuts continuing to gut a once-extensive program in Europe, the consolidation of the basketball, volleyball, soccer and slow-pitch softball service championships into single U.S. Forces events did little but underscore the superiority of USAFE entries in each sport. The most potent examples follow as this year’s military sports stories of the year:

1. All-USAFE final four turns Grafenwöhr blue in softball:

Ramstein’s and Lakenheath’s men and Lakenheath’s and Aviano’s women were the last teams standing Aug. 24 in the U.S. Forces Europe softball tournament at Army’s Grafenwöhr community. Ramstein’s men, who hit 22 home runs in their four tournament games, beat their USAFE brethren from Lakenheath 16-6; outfielder-turned-pitcher Vanessa Goodman of the Lakenheath Lady Eagles six-hit Italy-based Aviano 4-3 in the women’s final.

2. Air Force sweeps basketball titles:

Unlike their softball counterparts, the Army left itself half a chance in the title games of the 2010 USFE basketball tournament March 28 at Ramstein. Two Army-Europe teams reached the finals before falling. Heidelberg’s women led 17-9 before losing to Ramstein 60-55. The Army’s best males, the Kaiserslautern Panthers, lost 61-50 to Spangdahlem, largely because the Sabers made 11 of 18 free throws in the final 10 minutes. The tournament was the first in which every community-level team from each service converged in one spot to contend for the USFE titles.

3. Air Force takes top four places in soccer, too:

The soccer championships were an all-Air Force event. Aviano defeated Lakenheath 2-1 Oct. 24 in Aviano, Italy, to take the USFE soccer title, and 2009 champion Ramstein edged Spangdahlem 1-0 in the third-place game, long after the Army teams had departed the premises.

4. Army misses out in open tennis:

Although he was assigned to the Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center, Germany, men’s 2010 open champion Terry Johnson became the first Navy netter to claim a USFE tennis title when he downed Jorge Sepulveda of Kaiserslautern 6-3, 6-4 at Heidelberg on July 18. In keeping with 2010’s all-Air Force theme, two players from Spangdahlem squared off for the women’s title. Defending champion Maya Pardee beat her neighbor Cheryl Riise 6-4, 6-4.

Johnson and Pardee also claimed doubles gold; Johnson with Sepulveda and Pardee with Tim Goss of Heidelberg. Army communities also made a dent in the men’s combined seniors-masters category for players 30 years and older. Metin Karaca of Heidelberg beat fellow Heidelberger Ralph Totorica 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.

5. Army runners gain ground in 10-miler:

Keith Matiskella led three runners from Grafenwöhr into the top six of the Army-Europe 10-Miler on July 10 at Grafenwöhr. Matiskella set a course record of 53 minutes, 9 seconds in the event, which determines Army-Europe’s runners for October’s Association of the U.S. Army Ten-Miler. His Graf teammates, Daniel Welsh (58:09) and John Baeza (66:04) finished third and sixth, respectively. Ansbach’s Myra Gallusa topped all female runners, clocking 69:55.

In keeping with the trend of military sports in Europe, race organizers noted that 113 runners, the lowest turnout in the 14-year history of the event, participated.

At year’s end, there’s little reason to believe the deployments and cuts bleeding military sports in Europe dry won’t continue. As an indication, there’s a note on Army Europe’s MWR website that its sports staff will be reduced from seven to two in this fiscal year. Another sign that the paucity of Europe-based athletes on the various all-service teams will continue emerges from the annual SHAPE International Basketball Tournament earlier this month in Belgium. For the second straight year, no Europe-based athletes made the U.S. Armed Forces squad, which this year won the event.

These days, Europe-based athletes obviously have bigger things going on.

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