JROTC National Air Rifle Championships
Rachel Mangan, of Walhalla (S.C.) High School, gives her coach/father, retired Col. Kevin Mangan, a hug after winning Friday's first individual relay with a personal-best shoot.

ANNISTON, Ala. -- Army Cadets dominated the leader board -- including taking hold of some top team and individual categories -- after Friday's first round of the 2012 JROTC National Air Rifle Championships.

Tyler Rico, a senior from Flowing Wells (Ariz.) High School, led the Army charge with an opening day best 651.1 points in individual sporter competition and helped his squad to a sizeable lead in the team category.

He is trailed by a familiar foe in Charles Hollis, of Rayville (La.) High School, who posted a 649.2 individually. A month ago at the Army nationals, Hollis found himself in a similar spot behind Rico only to come from behind in the second round to collect the individual sporter title.

"You never can tell because it's early," Hollis said of his chances of winning again.

In the sporter divison, in which most Cadets compete, Army teams held the top three places and Army shooters were first through fifth individually.

The key for some schools was the ability of its members to work as unit.

"We have a close team, and I think we can win it," Rico said. "Everything is in our favor. Hopefully, we'll do tomorrow what we did today."

Day 1 success for many stemmed from strong focus, technique and composure. And perhaps a little bit of luck, too.

For Flowing Wells, Friday proved to be a repeat of last month's Army meet. Halfway through that competition, the team was in first place, only to lose the lead when shooter Alexandrea Provine became ill with what turned out to be pneumonia.

She missed a week of school upon her return to Arizona.

Now, all four Flowing Wells members are healthy. And unlike the Army event, the squad's coach thinks the results this time, particularly with a 24-point cushion, could be different.

"They're four senior who have shot together for three years, and they're a good team," said retired Maj. Robert DeWitt, whose team was fourth in the 2011 all-service meet. "We just have to wait for Day 2. It's all about Day 2.

"We just need to hold" the lead.

Ozark (Mo.) High School was among the few with sporter and precisions teams qualifying for the national meet. Both are in contention for division crowns.

Ozark's precision team, which is the reigning Army champion, enters Saturday's final round with a mere six-point lead over Shelby County High School, a Marine Corps program from Kentucky. Del Valle (Texas) High, the Army runner-up, sits in third.

Ozark's sporter team, which finished fifth at the Army level, vaulted to second nationally after the first day.

Ozark members wouldn't discuss the standings, preferring instead to focus on repeating Friday's performance on Saturday.

Evaluating that showing, senior Tessa Howald, a member of the precision squad, said there's room for improvement.

"We can always do better," she said. "We can always work harder, and that's what we need to do."

Friday's performances set up a chance for Army Cadets to collectively duplicate or better their 2011 success. Last year, the Army had the top four teams and top three individuals in sporter, as well as two teams in the top five and three individuals in the top 10 in precision.

Page last updated Fri March 23rd, 2012 at 20:36