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Recent success lifts morale throughout Air Force athletic department

January 6, 2014 Updated: January 6, 2014 at 8:55 pm

As Air Force men's basketball coach Dave Pilipovich sat in front of television cameras for the first time since a wildly successful week for his team, the first thing he did was talk about the Falcons hockey team's recent run.

When hockey player Mitch Torrel took that position about an hour later to talk about his MVP performance in a stunning tournament victory, he mentioned Air Force golfer Kyle Westmoreland.

The final few days of 2013 and the first week of 2014 brought high-end successes throughout the Air Force athletic department, and everyone seems happy to share in the positive vibe.

"We all have friends on all the teams because it's such a small school," Torrel said. "Collectively, we all feel each other's successes and pains."

Torrel scored three goals as the Falcons won the Ledyard Bank Classic hosted by Dartmouth with victories over No. 16 Northeastern and No. 4 Providence on Dec. 28 and 29.

On Dec. 31, Westmoreland outlasted Texas' Toni Hakula through six playoff holes for a victory in the Patriot All-America Invitational in Arizona. The event brings 80 All-America golfers from different college levels. Westmoreland was not an All-American but was invited to play as a representative of a service academy and emerged as the champion.

Then the basketball team, which had struggled through the nonconference schedule, opened the Mountain West with upsets of Utah State and UNLV.

"Great stuff for Air Force athletics," Pilipovich said. "Great stuff. Great week."

Hockey coach Frank Serratore said the week came at a time when the athletic department needed it on the heels of a football season that saw the Falcons go 2-10.

"It's not a good thing when things aren't going good with football," Serratore said. "They've had a lot of really good years that they've treated us to, and it's nice to see other teams picking up the slack, picking up the morale for Falcon nation. It's tough. This fall was tough on all of us.

"This is terrific for the mojo of Falcon nation. We needed that."

The football struggles led to scattered mumblings both in the media and on message boards that perhaps Division I sports are no longer the best fit for Air Force or service academies in general.

Serratore clearly heard that talk and wants no part of it. He likes how cadets are challenged academically and militarily and he wants athletics to stay in line with that. Besides, he sees no other way to replicate the feeling that exists after a week like this without challenging, and defeating, competition at the top level.

"Some day when our guys and gals are out serving their country and they run into adversity, what experiences are they going to look back on and derive experience and confidence and strength from to be able to handle it?" Serratore said. "And keep in mind, when they're in our Air Force they're at the top of the BCS when it comes to military forces. They ain't the underdog anymore.

"They need that. You can't buy that. You can't manufacture that. You have to earn it."

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