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111th Fighter Wing volleyball team zeroes out opposition

Members of the 111th Fighter Wing, Pa. Air National Guard, from Willow Grove Air Reserve Station became the 2009 Willow Grove Joint Reserve Base Volleyball Champions here Apr. 1.

Members of the 111th Fighter Wing, Pa. Air National Guard, from Willow Grove Air Reserve Station became the 2009 Willow Grove Joint Reserve Base Volleyball Champions here Apr. 1.

WILLOW GROVE AIR RESERVE STATION, Pa. -- What does the 111th Fighter Wing Volleyball Team have in common with the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 2008-09 University of Connecticut Women's Basketball Team? Perfection!

That's right! The 111th Fighter Wing Volleyball team A.K.A. the Air Force finished the regular season and post season undefeated winning the Base Volleyball Championship.

Despite the thrill of victory, there was a frightening moment in game two of the championship match against the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Detachment (AIMD) which threatened perfection.

"We won the first game and were up by eight points," said Maj. Ryan Sherbondy, an A-10 pilot with the 103rd Fighter Squadron. "By the second game they had tied it--there was a breakdown in communication in our team."

At this point in the game, a timeout was called. The team regrouped, rallied behind its leader, took the court, executed a comeback, and defeated AIMD.

Tech. Sgt. Jason Robbins, an aerospace ground equipment mechanic with the 201st RED HORSE Sq. Det. 1, was the team's coach. According to Sherbondy, Robbins has an extensive volleyball background.

Extensive volleyball background is an understatement when describing Robbins' volleyball credentials.

This player/coach has been a member of five volleyball championship teams while serving active duty. He has been playing volleyball ever since 1996! Shocking to others, the undefeated season and championship didn't come as a surprise to Robbins.

Not to be overconfident, but looking at the resources after the first two games indicated that this team would go undefeated, said Robbins.

Although leading the team looked easy, Robbins was confronted with several obstacles along the way and he used his expertise to resolve them.

"The different personalities and trying to get everyone in (the game)," said Robbins. "No one likes riding the bench."

Overcoming obstacles wasn't limited to experienced players like Robbins. At the other end of the spectrum you have players such as Tech Sgt. Joshua Nichols, an intelligence analyst with the 111th Operations Support Flight. Nichols grew up playing baseball and had never been a member of an organized volleyball championship team. His experience was limited to neighborhood pick up games.

"Growing up, Nolan Ryan was my favorite player because of the respect my father had for him," Nichols explained. "Ryan kept his performance at top notch."

"I was the newbie on the team." said Nichols. "The bridge between the experienced and non experienced was an obstacle."

Nichols said the team worked hard to close this gap by holding practices twice a week before the season started and practicing 45 minutes prior to the games once the season began. He credited veterans like Command Chief Master Sgt. Richard Mertz, to name a few, for helping him improve his game.

"Chief Mertz was our 'ace in the hole' server!" laughed Nichols.

When asked why he and his teammates were successful, Nichols smiled and responded: "Communication and dedication--our guys always showed up!"