Air rifle Day 1
Todd Brendenn, of Fredericktown (Mo.) High School, takes aim at his target Friday while shooting from the prone position during the opening round of the Army JROTC Air Rifle Championships at Anniston, Ala. Photo by Steve Arel/U.S. Army Cadet Command

ANNISTON, Ala. -- The barrage of metal pellets piercing paper targets echoed through the otherwise hushed air rifle range.

With ear muffs tightly cupping his ears, Alex Bapties couldn't necessarily hear the persistent pings; didn't want to hear to them.

Staring down the small black circle through his scope, the senior from Cumberland (Va.) High School worked to block out everything around him -- the shooters to his right and left, the smattering of people walking behind him along the firing line and the self-analysis whistling in his head.

"I tried not to think about anything," Bapties said. "I pictured shooting the bullseye."

More than 250 Cadets began taking aim Friday at becoming Army Junior ROTC's top shooters as part of the Army JROTC Service Championships. They qualified for the tournament based on their finishes in local postal matches.

The two-day national competition is being held simultaneously at Civilian Marksmanship Program facilities in Anniston and at Camp Perry, Ohio. The CMP conducts all service- and national-level JROTC air rifle matches.

Despite this weekend's meets, an overall winner won't be crowned until Tuesday. The CMP, looking to defray travel expenses for programs in the western part of the country, added Salt Lake City to the host locations. Shooting at that site begins Monday.

After the first day of competition, precision national champion Ozark (Mo.) High School is in front of Patch High School of Germany 2,323 to 2,284. Ozark was second at the Army level last year. Killeen (Texas) High School leads the sporter division 2,196 to 2,174 over defending champ Daleville (Ala.) High.

Individually, Hana Kenny of Sarasota (Fla.) Military Academy and Erika Hoffman of Patch are tied at 586 of a possible 600. Jared Sarkela of North Brunswick (N.C.) High holds a two-point cushion over Rachel Mangan of Walhalla (S.C.) High School, 564-562.

Cadets are firing from the standing, prone and kneeling positions in two divisions -- sporter and precision. 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.

Cadets like Bapties are no strangers to the Army national meet. This is his fourth appearance in the competition, and perhaps his most composed.

Bapties, a sporter shooter, said he's typically been nervous during the event, but considerably more practice and additional matches during the year helped him overcome. He finished Day 1 with a total of 544 points out of 600, good enough for 10th overall.

"I hope to get a few more points tomorrow," he said.

Nerves were arguably Cadets' biggest opponent Friday.

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Riess Pellegrino, coach for Sarasota Military Academy, tried to calm his team with reality. The variables of the competition, he told his Cadets, aren't any different than when they shine in local matches. They still fire indoors with tin pellets at a target 33 feet away.

"Think about that," Pellegrino said. "If you do that you're going to be a little more confident, a little more relaxed."

Marissa Furney, a precision shooter from Columbus (Ga.) High School, entered her final Army meet with confidence. After taking eighth overall last year, she spent more time at the range, including trips for training to the famed Army Marksmanship Unit that has produced several Olympic shooters.

Her goal for the first round was to finish with at least a 580. She scored a 581 for seventh overall.

Closing in on the top spot, she said, will take more focus.

"I noticed I was less nervous than last year," Furney said. "I've practiced so much since, and I remembered it."

Page last updated Fri February 15th, 2013 at 17:26