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Airmen out-bump soldiers

Ingrid Barrentine JBLM Assistant Intramural Programmer Minerva Hohaia, left, congratulates Sonny Mariner, 361st RCS, as teammate Rey Ornelas, 44, looks on following the JBLM 2011 intramural volleyball championship game against HHC, 593rd Sust. Bde., Ju

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The 361st Recruiting Squadron had been in this position before. Despite a new opponent, new tournament and a negligible home-court advantage, the Air Force volleyball team eaked out a championship victory against Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 593rd Sustainment Brigade.

The team took home its third straight championship for Joint Base Lewis-McChord McChord Field, and became the first joint base victors in the 2011 JBLM Sports, Fitness and Aquatics Intramural Volleyball Championship played June 15 at the McChord Main Fitness Gym.

The recruiting squadron defeated the logistics Soldiers two games to one in a thrilling third set that saw the game end with 361st center Sonny Mariner crush a near 70 mph spike off 593rd's Jazmine Silasau's hands.

Both the championship and best military-volleyball-team bragging rights were on the line. Even though the championship was at McChord's Main Fitness Center, the Army crowd far outnumbered the Air Force supporters. Similar to the New Zealand "All Blacks" rugby team made famous in the Hollywood movie "Invictus," the 593rd team began the game trying to psych out the recruiters with loud chants from players and their cheering section.

"I told our team that they were really fast-paced, loud and have good spirit," Mariner said after his team received the championship trophy. "We had our own tempo, our own game, and we just had to keep playing that and mute (the crowd) to win."

Having beaten the 361st in the regular season and torn up the competition during the playoffs, many members of the 593rd's team expected a much different result. All-Army volleyball player Eric Latson said his team had uncommon teamwork and cohesion to get them to the championship.

"We didn't win tonight, but if we keep the great teamwork, we'll be back next year," Latson said.

Latson and Mariner went back and forth crushing spikes against opposing players all night long. Latson led all servers with three aces, and in the first set, the 361st had a hard time returning most initial serves. Mariner stopped a few drives, but the 593rd owned the period, beating the Air Force team by nine.

"I told the (team) we are here for a reason - we must play our hearts out and leave it all on the floor because there is no tomorrow," Mariner told his team at the break after being shellacked by the sustainers. "I'm glad the guys responded well."

Respond they did - Mariner and Brian Mason hit multiple winners that kept the 593rd players on their toes throughout the second set. Latson and his crew made simple errors like mis-hitting easily returnable shots and never could get a sustained driving during the set. According to 361st coach Rey Ornelas, that's exactly the type of game plan the team wanted. His squad took their first lead of the game at 21-20, and after three spiked balls into the net by the 593rd players and a costly sideout at game point, the Air Force squad took the second set.

"We knew it was going to go three games, and weren't scared after the first (set)," Ornelas said.

The third set was owned by Mariner. Ornelas and Mason set up shot after shot for the dominant center to spike. Debbie Ornelas' turn as server heated up to score six straight points off serve, but the sustainers were never fully out of it as both teams traded errors throughout the game.

Up by one point, Rey Ornelas and the three other players who had been on the team for all three championships knew it was time to barrel down and finish off the other team.

"There was really good competition coming from that side," Rey Ornelas said. "We played harder for this one than the others."

Even though the 361st was an older team and was tired on the floor, they mustered enough energy to finish off the younger Soldiers 15-13 in the final set to take home the win.

"To win three in a row is awesome and never gets old," Mariner said. He and the coach want to win a fourth straight next year, but expect to see the 593rd standing in their way from accomplishing that feat in the tournament finale.

"Beating them means a lot more to us now," Rey Ornelas said. "For us to win is a bit surprising, because I don't think anyone plans to win three championships in a row."

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