Fort Hood Soldier competes on victorious All-Army squad
Daniel Cernero, Sentinel Sports EditorThe All-Army men’s volleyball team cruised to its second consecutive title at the 2012 Armed Forces Championship June 22-26, and one 89th Military Police Brigade Soldier from Fort Hood lived every moment of it.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Spc. Gabriel Figueroa, in the brigade’s 720th Military Police Battalion, was a setter and a defensive specialist on the All-Army team that steamrolled its way to back-to-back undefeated seasons.
With a good deal of confidence entering the tournament, Figueroa said the Army team fully realized how good they were after its opening match.
“We defeated the Air Force in five sets,” said Figueroa, noting that the Air Force squad would go on to win silver. “As soon as we won, we knew nobody could beat us.”
Having dropped two sets in the narrow opening-match victory, Army would go on to only drop one more set the entire tournament, which included two rematches against the Air Force.
“We killed the next two games against the Air Force in three sets,” Figueroa said.
For Figueroa, who spent his formative years playing volleyball in Puerto Rico, he said making the team to begin with was an accomplishment and a privilege in itself. He described winning gold as the cherry on top.
“There are no words,” he said. “It’s exciting. There’s a lot of pride.”
Figueroa began playing volleyball at age 9 and would spend 12 years of his youth playing on club teams in Puerto Rico.
In 2003, at age 17, Figueroa’s volleyball career received a spike after being selected to Puerto Rico’s Junior Olympic team. He’d go on to receive an athletic scholarship at a local college where he could continue playing the sport he loved.
At age 24, Figueroa joined the Army, and he said that volleyball was still a part of him, albeit mainly as a hobby at this point in his life. He also shares his passion for the sport with others as a coach on a local club team in Harker Heights called Pure Energy Spots.
When arriving at the All-Army team’s trial camp from May 30-June 20 at Fort Bragg, N.C., Figueroa said he saw the high level of competition. Also, he was quick to recognize his distinct height disadvantage, standing at 5-feet-7, while others sometimes towered a full foot above him.
“It was challenging from the start,” said Figueroa, speaking of his height predicament. “I just had to jump higher to compensate.”
Seeing his name on the official roster, Figueroa said he was very proud, realizing the loads of talent present at the camp and the tough choice that faced the coaches.
Figueroa said the opportunity to play volleyball, a sport he’s passionate about, while serving in the Army has been great. He said he also knows its place, in terms of priorities.
“We’re Soldiers first; the demands of the mission come first,” Figueroa said. “But if you have special talents and abilities – arts, sports, or whatever – then you should show that off and represent the Army.”
He added, “I took it as an honor to represent the Army.”