On Monday, June 4, sixteen stellar career Air Force women arrived on Hill Air Force Base at the Warrior Fitness Center to compete for a position on the 2012 United States Air Force Women's Volleyball Team.
Each of them had to get the signatures required from their squadrons to support them throughout the recruitment, selection, training and competition process and to provide support for their job duties in their absence, but Coach Jeff Barrows knew what was needed to comprise a top performing woman's team. He had to narrow his focus to the specific goals for this year's team and create a roster of athletes that would work together to best compete as the Air Force faces off June 21-28 at the Armed Forces Championships at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill.
Out of the 11 players there is one Air Reservist and the head coach is from the Air National Guard. The United States Air Force Women's Volleyball Team is comprised of ranks ranging from captain to senior airman, and their career fields include KC-10 pilot, satellite operator, knowledge operations expert, applied math graduate student, engineer, pharmacist, medic and security forces officer.
"These ladies who have been working hard in their careers have come here to work even harder as athletes and represent the Air Force," said Barrows. "The confidence level in these athletes is unlike any other I've ever seen. The paths they've taken to get to where they are have required them to push themselves. They've found their true warrior spirit," he said.
Barrows described the camaraderie among the women both on and off the court. "One thing I think is really neat about this is that we have both officers and enlisted ladies on the team; both are proud of being in the military, which is a very rank-oriented structure, but on the court everyone here is equal. They're all on one volleyball team that represents the Air Force. Sports really reveals what kind of character you have. Your ability to drive, to push through things and do what's necessary for the good of the whole team. It's a unique opportunity that allows them to compete as one team, towards one goal, it's true esprit de corps," said Barrows.
"We all feel very fortunate to still have this opportunity. This program is an amazing opportunity for these ladies who are already working at an operations tempo around the world. The fact that their commanders have given them permission to do this says a lot about each of them as athletes and as career professionals."
Barrows' assisted in coaching the 2009 U.S. Air Force Women's Volleyball Team, led by Coach Maj. John Napier, through the same rigorous selection and training process. In 2009 the team won the silver medal. They won the gold medal in 2010. In 2011 they won the bronze medal when they lost the last set in the play-off round. Napier is coaching this year's Air Force Men's Volleyball Team at Dover Air Force Base. "We'll all meet up at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois at the big tournament for opening ceremonies," said Barrows.
When asked about his coaching strategy Barrows kept it simple and gave the glory to the ladies and due respect to Warrior Fitness Center.
"Before they were selected I had to ask myself if they were in good enough physical condition to be able to handle the training and still be functional. I also needed to know their skill set. They had to already have mastered the skills pretty well before they had gotten here," Barrows said.
"Watching their energy level and balancing their training schedule with their need for rest, that's my job to watch and tailor it as needed, depending on how the athletes are functioning to find the right balance to allow them to peak," he added.
"We've got a limited amount of time to select the athletes, train them, come together as a team, get our offense and defense figured out and get ready to compete. We have ex-college athletes and top local club teams in Utah scrimmaging against us to get ready for the Armed Forces competitions. It's great," said Barrows.
Barrows showed appreciation for volunteer assistant, Jason Greene, who competed on the men's team in the past. Recently he returned from a deployment. Because he is currently working nights, Greene offered to work with the women shagging balls, playing on the court as needed and doing whatever was needed of him to help them train.
Also assisting the team are two volunteer athletic trainers from Weber State University. Matt Brinkerhoff and Tiffany Vlahos have been going through "yards of tape and pounds of ice taking care of the ladies," said Barrows.
Barrows gave a great deal of recognition to Hill Air Force Base Warrior Fitness Center and its staff. They have hosted the Air Force Women's Volleyball Team recruitment, selection and training process for the last four years. "This gym is world class as is its staff. I'd like to thank all of them. Especially Maurice Uhlhorn, Rachel Groft and Cole Robinson. They've supported us in every way possible, from picking athletes up from the airport, providing and setting up equipment, keeping water supplied for the athletes, basically they've done everything in order to allow the coaches and athletes to be able to focus on training and we appreciate that more than we can say," said Barrows.