2012 JROTC Air Rifle Championships
Robin Chastain, of Sarasota Military Academy, takes aim at a target during Thursday's practice round at the Civilian Marksmanship Program's indoor range in Anniston, Ala.

ANNISTON, Ala. -- On the eve of his sport's biggest meet, Cody Bernal's frustration was obvious.

He sighed heavily at times after shots. He slapped his leg. He turned away from his target, shaking his head.

Good thing this was only a practice round Thursday. Now the Rayville (La.) High School senior has only hours left to get it right.

"I was fighting my natural point of aim," said Bernal, who believes the problem rested with his body alignment. "It would be on, then it would be off. … I'll get a good night's rest. The best thing is to put your mind at ease."

The JROTC Air Rifle Championships begin Friday morning at the Civilian Marksmanship's indoor rifle range. Some 225 Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps Cadets will shoot for team and individual titles over the next two days.

They'll fire in prone, kneeling and standing positions in either sporter or precision categories. Sporter air rifle is designed for competitors who want to compete with little customization or specialized shooting equipment. Precision air rifle is modeled after Olympic-style shooting and allows the use of specialized target rifles and shooting equipment.

The top seven Army sporter and top four precision teams, as well as the top eight sporter and top five precision individuals are competing. They earned national berths during last month's service meet.

Kevin Cruz took third individually in precision last year. He's back, gunning for a better finish after winning the individual category at the Army level.

And this time, he's more confident.

"I stay positive and get all the negative things out of the way," Cruz, of Del Valle High School in Texas, said.

Even with his win last month -- a victory in which he edged one of the nation's top teen shooters -- Cruz doesn't feel pressure to repeat his performance at the national level.

"I'm relaxed and don't let it bother me," said Cruz, who also will fire with his team that qualified to vie for a national championship. "I've improved since last year by focusing on the little stuff."

Rachel Mangan, of Walhalla High School in South Carolina, shares that optimism.

After shooting well enough last winter to qualify for her first all-service national meet, Mangan's performance in the event when downhill when it mattered most. Categorizing her shooting as "pretty terrible," she remembers running to her car during a brief break between firing positions to go cry.

What Mangan did since, between her sophomore and junior years, was focus on technique, setting herself up for success.

"I have enough technique down where if I have a bad day" it doesn't sink the overall performance, she said. "I didn't have that last year."

Mangan also has less of something she felt she had too much of last year, her first on the national stage: pressure.

"Getting here was the goal," she said of this year's run. "I'm relaxed. I've gotten to the point where I can pretty much tune everything else out. I know I'll do better."

Page last updated Thu March 22nd, 2012 at 00:00