Air rifle championships
Members of the Ozark (Mo.) High School precision team shed tears and hug after their national meet win.

ANNISTON, Ala. -- This time, they swore the outcome would be different.

And it was.

Cadets with Flowing Wells High captured the school's first national sporter air rifle championship Saturday, along with the top individual spots.

The Arizona program built a 24-point cushion after the first round of the two-day, all-service meet at the Civilian Marksmanship Program's indoor range. Their captain, senior Tyler Rico, had hoped he and his teammates would repeat their performance during the final round.

They essentially did, winning over Daleville (Ala.) High School by 19 points. Ozark (Mo.) High, which was second after the first day, took third.

The victory was particularly rewarding for Flowing Wells, which had succumbed to Daleville at last month's Army-level meet after building a Day 1 lead.

"It's nice to finally have a win," said Rico, who took second individually to teammate Alexandrea Provine. "The way I look at it is that you can only beat yourself. We try to shoot our best and hope it works out."

On the precision side, Ozark made a historic run en route to a national title. No school has ever switched divisions and won the championship that first season, said Brad Donoho of the Civilian Marksmanship Program.

Until now.

After winning the sporter division the last two years, Ozark Cadets on that team wanted to give younger, inexperienced students a chance to compete as well. So each of the champion shooters decided to move up to the more-skilled precision level.

It might have seemed a drastic switch. But such a move would position the Ozark program for success on the sporter level in years to come.

"We've worked so hard for this," junior precision member Makennon Doran said. "We just came out and did everything we could."

Because Ozark Cadets don't focus on results until the end of competition, they didn't look at stats from Friday's opening round and weren't aware they had a lead entering Saturday.

In the finale, Ozark padded its lead with perfect scores from Doran and senior Tessa Howald in the opening prone position. But after the second position -- standing -- Shelby County (Ky.) High School, a Marine Corps program, had closed the gap.

The two teams, shooting next to each other on the firing line, entered the kneeling position tied.

"You're helpless as a coach," said retired 1st Sgt. Terry Thompson, Ozark's coach.

But in that final position, Shelby County couldn't keep pace and Ozark pulled off an eight-point win.
Doran said he and his teammates had no idea the match was so close.

That way "it doesn't affect you psychologically," he said. "I don't care what anybody says. This is a mental sport."

Of the three national titles Ozark has won the last few years, Thompson said this one means the most to him. It was the Cadets who drove the move, raising thousands of dollars to buy needed precision rifles and equipment and looking toward the future of the school's air rifle program.

"When we started precision, I thought we could be competitive but had no idea," Thompson said. "Then I saw things coming around at Christmas. I felt we were just as good as anybody else out there."

For a number of shooters, the national meet marked the end of their high school careers.

Clint Alama was among them. The Pelion (S.C.) High School senior had hoped to close out with a personal best round of 570. Though he came up short with 548, the fact he had the opportunity to compete against Junior ROTC's best was as much a victory for the second-year shooter as anything.

"This is stressful, and there's a lot of pressure," Alama said. "These are the best shooters. I'm one of the best, too, but you're always wondering what they're shooting.

"But not everybody makes it here. I'm still bringing good news back to South Carolina."

Flowing Wells will trumpet its good news back home, too.

Spending Saturday afternoon reflecting on the meet and the season with his team, retired Maj. Robert De Witt, the Flowing Wells coach, said one thing stood out to him. Despite two individual standout shooters, the team's success centered on teamwork.

"This has been a goal for them," he said. "They've been looking toward their senior year and wanting to improve and wanting to go out on top."

It's rare in the air rifle world for teams to lose all four of its shooters in a single year, De Witt said. But that will happen to Flowing Wells later this spring with graduation.

Next year's squad will be dominated by sophomores.

"We would have to do well to be back next year," De Witt said. "In two years, it could be a different story."

Page last updated Sat March 24th, 2012 at 19:07