Hanau-Hessen women, Stuttgart men take Army-Europe volleyball titles
Stars and Stripes June 11, 2007
DARMSTADT, Germany — Stuttgart’s men needed just one set Saturday morning to win their first Army-Europe volleyball championship since 2001. The women from Hanau-Hessen, on the other hand, played well into Saturday night to retain the Army-Europe crown they won last year at Vicenza.
Stuttgart’s Stallions, with tourney MVP Matt Hoffer leading the way, turned back Heidelberg twice in straight sets over two days to win the two-team men’s tournament. The Stallions prevailed 25-12, 25-19, 25-17 on Friday night and 30-28, 25-16, 25-21 on Saturday morning.
The Hanau-Hessen Hornets needed an if-necessary match before they finally subdued the losers-bracket champion Heidelberg Lady Generals for the second time in three matches on Saturday. The Hornets, who beat Heidelberg in Saturday afternoon’s winners-bracket final, prevailed 17-25, 25-23, 25-19, 27-25 in the decider of the six-team women’s event.
Hanau-Hessen women 1-3, Heidelberg 3-1: “It’s not like it’s the Olympics or anything like that,” said two-time tourney MVP Vai Willis after her Hornets shrugged off a 25-22, 20-25, 21-25, 18-25 loss in Saturday afternoon’s first championship game to win their second straight championship. “We’re just out to have fun. That’s the main point.”
And fun, bordering on giddiness, was what the Hornets had, even after losing the first game of the second match to Heidelberg’s no-quit Lady Generals. Despite being in the process of dropping their fourth straight game to Heidelberg, the Hornets stayed loose, smiling and performing hand-clapping chants after each point.
Some of them were tactical, such as the “side-out” reminder the Hornets gave themselves after losing serve. Others were supportive, such as chanting the name of the teammate responsible for winning the previous point. And some took the form of good-natured ribbing — “thank you” after unforced Heidelberg errors.
Thankfulness summed up the match after Heidelberg’s bid to force a winner-take-all fifth game fell just short. The Lady Generals, who trailed 11-6 in the early going, led 25-24 before they made three straight errors that handed the championship to the Hornets.
“I’m just thankful we got it done,” Willis said after the four-hour marathon. “It’s a matter of motivation."
Stuttgart men 3-3, Heidelberg 0-0: “Our passing was excellent,” said six-year Stuttgart veteran Dave Ruiz in characterizing his team’s 6-0 run against the Generals, “and we were strong in the middle. We have four legitimate middle blockers, so we always had fresh legs in there. Our blocking was tremendous.”
Despite his team’s not losing a game to the Generals, Ruiz, who played on Stuttgart’s previous title team in 2001, was impressed with his opponent.
“Heidelberg had to struggle to put a team together,” he said of this deployment- and drawdown-impeded event. “They did a tremendous job.”
One of Stuttgart’s middle blockers, Dan Kronenwetter, agreed.
“We’ve played these guys the last four years,” said Kronenwetter, a four-year Stallions veteran. “They’ve got some really good players.”
Players who were finally playing together again, according to Heidelberg coach Jeremiah George.
“Because of missions downrange and other duties, we could not consistently put a team together for league play,” George said. “They played maybe three games together all season.”
Northern Region partners Wiesbaden and Mannheim, along with the Air Force teams from Ramstein and Spangdahlem, provided Heidelberg’s Northern Region league opposition. But deployments struck Mannheim and Wiesbaden at tournament time, leaving just two teams to contest the Army-Europe championship.
“The same thing that happened to us during the season happened to them at tournament time,” George said. “Their players were dispersed.”
Stuttgart, which plays in the Southern Region, also experienced a competition gap.
“They have to combine the regions,” Ruiz said. “We had a hard time getting games during the regular season. It was like we were still warming up here.”