Team Sota has many fluid pieces on its volleyball team with a conglomerate of seniors that love to compete.
The team doesn't practice together and sometimes the captain, Fran Launstein, will invite seniors he's never played with before. Yet somehow, Team Sota finds a way to win. That was the case Wednesday when Launstein's squad claimed the gold medal in the 70-and-over men's volleyball competition during the National Senior Games at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
"This is super, a great group of guys," Launstein said. "One guy I've never played with. Three others I've only played with once before. It's just a great experience to come away with a gold [medal] the first time we've been together."
Launstein, 76, said the team has played on and off for the past 15 years. The Minneapolis native typically participates in four volleyball tournaments annually around the country. Launstein has played volleyball for the past four decades, starting in a local coed league with his wife. He progressed to a men's volleyball league and eventually found a competitive seniors league in Bloomington.
"You get pushed to stay in shape, try and eat right," Launstein said. "All these other older guys are doing the same thing, or they wouldn't be here. They'd be in a wheelchair or something like that."
Only three players that participated in the tournament are from Minnesota, while the rest come from all over the country including California and Iowa. That includes Iowa City native John Spitzer, who received a call from Launstein to participate in the tournament.
"Playing on the USA Volleyball teams, you get to know people moving through the age brackets," Spitzer said. "I knew a fair number of these players before."
Spitzer, 71, said he's been playing volleyball for almost 40 years. He started playing when he lived near an Air Force base in New Mexico during the 1960s. Spitzer said volleyball was the popular activity around the base, and he's loved the sport ever since that moment. It's a sport that doesn't take a toll on his body, but Spitzer's still capable of breaking a sweat every match.
"I love team sports and volleyball is one of the most team oriented," Spitzer said. "You can't really do anything just by yourself. If you have a team that has one star player, it doesn't work."
Spitzer only played with two players on his team previously, but Team Sota clicked well in its championship match to win in straight sets.
"It's not like joining an NFL team where you have to learn plays," Spitzer said. "The young guys in the super teams, they do run plays.
"Our age, we don't run plays."