Fantastic FOUR Hickam aces quality air force volley ball teams
By Mark Munsey , Special to the Kukini
/ Published May 04, 2007
HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii -- Two rosters, two nets, two weeks. Drills followed by water. Back to drills. And then a few more drills. But then the scrimmages came, and the personality of each team comes into focus. Not everyone who made the trip here will get to help be part of that make-up, with final cuts having taken place earlier this week.
Welcome to the basketball player's worst enemy, the gym-owning 2007 women's and men's Air Force volleyball tryouts at the base fitness center.
Anyone who has ventured near the center since mid-April, but this week especially, was welcome to sit and see the rewards of the roster competition.
Of the 22 athletes selected to represent the Air Force next week at the Armed Forces tournament at West Point, the United States Military Academy, four are from Hickam.
But the quartet is not strangers to each other on or off the hardwood. Each has tasted the same AF-level volleyball success for the last three years.
Still months away from seeing her 18-year-old-arm extend to receive her high school diploma, Huitt started a series of actions that would assure her an opportunity to represent the Air Force at it's zenith of volleyball excellence for the next seven years.
After seeing several college campuses on volleyball recruitment visits, her feet ended up on Air Force Academy grounds.
'It did have a pretty good home field advantage,' Huitt said.
That advantage paid off. A four-year starter at setter, volleyball's equivalent of point guard, Huitt set the academy's all-time assist record and spent time ranked number six nationally by the NCAA in assists per game.
"The academy experience is something I knew would be unique and it exposed me to an ops grind that is probably greater than at regular universities," she said. "That, and flying right on my doorstep."
That flying led to her selection as a C-17 pilot, assigned to the 535th Airlift Squadron. She's since added three more years to her streak of setting the best hitters in Blue.
Huitt owns the line with quiet confidence. Through gestures, eye contact and repetition, she hopes to speak a language only her and her hitter can immediately interpret. The number of times her teammates have crushed on short-numbered or ill-formed defensive walls is a tribute to her setting with a gunslinger's mentality.
There was extra spring in his step, equaled later than night in his leap, during one of the men's first scrimmages. And for good reason; playing a squad comprised or current and former players from University of Hawaii was practically a reunion for the 1998 UH graduate. Kahele was a four-year member of the school's volleyball team.
After college came the Hawaiian Air National Guard and undergraduate pilot training, eventually progressing to his current billet.
Much like Huitt, Kahele is a C-17 pilot, assigned to the 204th Airlift Squadron, HIANG. Together, they comprise the two coin sides of Hickam's precedent-setting C-17
mission; active duty and Guard side by side.
An outside strong hitter by position, Kahele moves effortlessly through all the stations, excelling at the dig.
His first year on team Air Force won the competition, beating the Army in the finals. Last year the results were reversed.
"This is the rubber match," he said
The fact the Army is the head that currently wears the service volleyball crown only helps to sweeten the tournament location.
"There's going to probably be about 5,000 Army cadets cheering their team on," he said."I can't wait."
Unsolicited, one team member wanted it documented what some have taken to calling him ... The Machine.
Also in his third year of AF camp experience, Szymanski's standing on the team makes him a poster boy for work ethic. Barely getting off the bench on last year's team, even less game time the year before, The Machine has become one of the team's most explosive and lethal weapons.
"He's absolutely crushing this year," Kahele said.
Rising for a hit, Szymanski's body contorts upwards in stages, like an insanely in-shape slinky in reverse. The elevation momentum of his legs subsides, hovering while his torso continues the assent. Finally, his arm uncoils on a Wilson that has a solid chance of quickly meeting the opponent's courtside.
Joining the team from the Headquarters Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence, he doesn't take for granted this on-going opportunity.
"I can dedicate to just playing volleyball," he said. "It's a special feeling being part of such a reputable group."
Like his three teammates, he has been in the AF-level volleyball fold for three years. He's also had his share of pre-military volleyball recognition, making history along the way.
Vallejo was a senior at Miami's Southwest Senior High the first year the state of Florida sanctioned boy's volleyball leagues. Southwest brought home the first-ever male volleyball crown, as well as the school's first state championship in anything in the previous 20 years.
Accolades and representing the AF aside, there is something else the outside hitter enjoys.
"I like to blast people in the face," he admitted.
When not providing complimentary leather facials, Vallejo owns a jump serve that explodes upon contact and can always been found in the men's team better-constructed walls at net.
This may well be his last year on the AF team. Vallejo will soon be working towards a new AF uniform: commissioned officer, thanks in part to Kahele and Szymanski.
"They've both been huge in helping me prepare for testing and applications for the SOAR program," he said. "Probably their greatest assist came off the volleyball court."
Four team members representing the array of missions and components on Hickam, all united in one cause.
Bring volleyball gold back home to the Air Force family.