There was plenty of noise made by raucous family members and fans of the Army and Navy sitting volleyball teams as they battled for 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games gold in Chicago July 7.
“The support that they (Warrior Games athletes) get from the community is amazing to me,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Diamond Hough, from Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
“What I’m most impressed about is the amount of resiliency that these warriors show,” Hough said. “I don’t see them as disabled; I see them as ‘abled.’”
While the players were warming up, you could tell this match was going to be emotional and full of drama. The pro-Navy crowd was matched by the small Army contingent, but the noise made by both had a home-cooked flavor for everyone.
Team Army and Team Navy made their way to the gold medal match along two different paths. Navy went through pool play without a loss, while Army lost two of their first three matches before catching fire.
Team Navy hoisted anchor and rushed out to a 10-7 lead, forcing Army to call a much-needed time out. Much like the first match these two teams played before the medal rounds, unforced errors plagued Team Army and Team Navy took advantage, taking game one of the best-of-three competition, 25-20.
The noise level increased with chants of “Let’s Go Army.” Not to be out done, Navy fans broke out with a familiar cheer U.S. soccer fans yell during national team matches: “I Believe That We Will Win.” All of the cheering seemed to motivate Team Army as they rushed to an early lead in game two.
Rhythm is critical in sitting volleyball. All the strategy of the players on the court, fans in the stands and coaches on the sidelines cannot be substituted for rhythm and momentum.
“Rhythm is crucial,” said U.S. Army veteran Christy Gardner. “We feed off of each other.”
U.S. Army veteran Charles Hightower matched Team Navy’s Petty Officer 1st Class Pou Pou’s skill at the net and helped Army increase their game two lead.
“It’s important for us to fight back, settle in and play for the next point,” Gardner said.
With Team Army up, 18-16, Team Navy called a time out. That’s when momentum shifted to Navy’s favor.
Both teams were struggling with self-inflicted errors, but Team Navy managed to outduel Team Army for a 25-23 win, taking the gold medal in sitting volleyball with Team Army earning silver.
The rivalry between the sports teams of these two services always ends when the final whistle blows. The common mission of defending the nation and fighting to win its wars is unique about this rivalry.
“It’s a friendly competition,” Hough said. “They compete hard and afterward, they shake each other’s hand.”
There were hugs and smiles and even some tears when the match ended. The athletes said time it is a privilege and honor to compete during the 2017 DOD Warrior Games.
“I really appreciate being able to be here and support these warriors,” Hough said. “I love what the Warrior Games represents.”