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Navy Takes Gold in Sitting Volleyball Final at DoD Warrior Games

CHICAGO, July 9, 2017 — In a hard-fought matchup for the sitting volleyball gold medal at the 2017 Department of Defense Warrior Games at the United Center here July 7, Navy topped Army, 25-20 and 25-23.

"It's a credit to our coach and our team," said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Shane Gilley, who also played in the Warrior Games last year. He said the team's previous coach was focused more on the team playing six-on-six, but the new head coach, Bailey Wagner, had the players focus more on movements and drills to develop the players and get them to the next level. Gilley said the work paid off.

"Everything we worked so hard for in the camps, all the sweat and blood that we left on the floor prior to coming here, it validated everything we did," Gilley said. "Our team clicked; we had cohesion. It was everybody pumping everybody up. No one here thought they were bigger than the team. We're all family. Ryan Shannon, he was the best man at my wedding. I stay in touch with a bunch of these guys throughout the year."

Ryan said he and some of his teammates play in semi-professional wheelchair basketball leagues, and he's training to compete in biathlon.

"We're athletes," he said. "A lot of able bodies couldn't keep up with us. I've been playing and training for five sports for the past 10 days, and I just turned 41. Step up. I'm hurt, but I'm not out of it."

Wagner noted that her team went undefeated the entire tournament and beat all of its opponents in two sets.

"The Army has a great team," she said. "We went point for point with them, but I kept reminding the team, especially during the timeouts, [that] what was important was what we're doing on our side of the court -- to refocus and remember our training and go back to the basics of volleyball," she said. "Army put up a great fight but our guys took it at the end."

Keys to Victory

She said the Navy's strength was ball control and having three contacts to set up the offense. She said the players also were good at reading what the other team was doing.

"We've been practicing together since November, and we're a team and a family both on and off the court," she said. "We train and eat together. We get there early so we can talk with each other. It's important to have that support system for when you step away from the games -- to know you have family and friends when you're having a bad day."

Army Coach Proud of Effort

Army coach Linda Gomez said she was proud of her silver-medal team and how they competed.

"They took everything we put together and executed very well today," she said. "We only had one returning starter and one sub from our Warrior Games last year, so this is a brand new team. I'm just so proud of their effort and everything they've learned that they were able to transfer onto the court."

She said the strength of the Army team was its serving and being able to initiate an offense against an experienced Navy team. "Some of the Navy team have been playing sitting volleyball for a long time, so to see this team compete with them and hold their own, we know now just how good this team really is," she said.

Medically retired Army Staff Sgt. Randi Hobson, Army team captain and returning player echoed her coach's pride.

"We played our game," she said. "We had some awesome blocks, and our serving was on point. You can't ask for much but to hope that you make the other team make more mistakes. It's a game about mistakes, and we just made a little more than they did. Our team had never played together until the first day before rounds started. We had a 45-minute practice, and to come from never having played to a gold medal match at the United Center, you can't really ask for anything better than that."

The Army team is also a family on and off the court, Hobson said.

"Whether you're playing a team sport or doing an individual event, you always have somebody behind you," she added. "We had some people doing gold medal shooting this morning, and we had a big support group there. Everybody came out to watch us play volleyball. Everybody who's on the team who's not playing basketball after this, we're going right up into the stands to watch them play.

"You can't ask for a better family than the Army family," she continued, "and whether that's athletes and competitors or the family members they bring with them, you really can't ask for a better support group."

Bronze Medal Match

The Marine Corps team earned the bronze medal outlasting Air Force in a three-set match.

 Air Force won the first set 25-22, but the Marines fought back to take the second set 25-19 and sealed the deal with a 15-9 third set.

"It's the best volleyball they've played all week," said Marine head coach Brent Peterson. The team hadn't played together before this week, he noted.

"We started a little bit slow, but they realized they could trust each other and themselves and got confident. They started taking over, and from that second day on, we won. It was excellent. They worked really hard, and it showed."

Peterson said he's been coaching since the games began in 2010, but that this the proudest he's been of a team. "These guys just poured it out and came to win today. It's an incredible feeling," he said.

Medically retired Staff Sgt. Jeremy Lake, team captain for the Marines, said it had been a long week for the athletes, as many have competed here in other sports besides sitting volleyball. "We're really proud of the team and the accomplishments we've made during the week and the practice and time we put in," he said. "I couldn't be any happier today."

Air Force team captain Senior Airman Heather Carter said her team communicated and played with heart. "We made them earn that win," she said. "I'm extremely proud of the team. They kept the morale going all the way to the end."

Heart, resilience and adaptability are important, she added, "but also the perseverance of never giving up and constantly pushing forward personally and … pushing your teammates forward."

(Follow Shannon Collins on Twitter: @CollinsDoDNews)
Distribution channels: Military Industry

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