Air rifle nationals
Benjamin Estes of Ozark (Mo.) High School collects his thoughts between shots in the standing position during precision competition in the JROTC National Air Rifle Championships in Anniston, Ala., March 22, 2013.

ANNISTON, Ala. (March 22, 2013) -- Here it is, the culmination of their competitive high school careers. After countless hours of practice and years of competition, the end for seniors comes down to 120 pellets and a shot at a national JROTC air rifle championship.

"Being here means you're one of the best," said Jed Adams of North Salem (Ore.) High School. "I try not to think about it because you don't want to psyche yourself out. But at the end of the day, I realize we are one of the best."

The 2013 national meet got under way today at the Civilian Marksmanship Program's indoor range, featuring the top teams and individual shooters from Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps JROTC programs from across the country. Army teams dominated last year's event, sweeping the overall crowns in the precision and sporter divisions.

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 are firing from the standing, prone and kneeling positions.

After winning its second straight Army-level title, Ozark (Mo.) High School looks to repeat as national precision champs. The 2012 sporter winner, Flowing Wells (Ariz.) High School, failed to qualify this spring, and new Army sporter champion Killeen (Texas) High School hopes to claim the top spot.

After Friday's opening round of competition, Ozark Cadets had put the program in position to repeat. The school held a 16-point advantage -- 2,346 to 2,330 -- over Shelby County (Ky.) High School, a Marine Corps program.

Killeen finished the opening round in fifth with 2,142 points, behind leader and Army-level runner-up Dalesville (Ala.) High School's 2,184 points.

Individually, Ozark's Benjamin Estes, who was the Army's top individual shooter last month, leads on the precision side over Navy's Colt Gross of North Augusta (Ga.) High School. Navy's Hunter Cushman of King George (Va.) High School is in front of Army champ Todd Mazur of Killeen in the sporter division.

The meet's final round is set for Saturday.

Most of those competing this weekend will walk away with no medal or trophy. But in the eyes of many, simply qualifying to compete at the sport's highest level is considered a victory.

The nearly 60 Army JROTC students firing in Anniston beat out thousands of other Cadets from across the country, first in local contests, then in regional competitions.

Regine Labarda, a senior and first-year shooter, helped lead Germany's Patch High School to the nationals. Part of a team with three rookies and one shooter with just two years of experience, she said advancing to the finals was something of a surprise.

"I know we're good in Germany, but I didn't know how well (other teams) do in the States," Labarda said.

Patch closed out Friday in 14th place. Labarda said the pressure of competing against the top teams from all the services and nerves were detrimental.

"We can do better," said Labarda, adding she expected the team to be much more relaxed Saturday.

Coming off a win last weekend in the Arizona Governor's Cup competition, Carl Hayden High School's Nestor Alvarez expects his team to be on the trophy stand after Saturday's final round. Closing out Friday in fourth place in the sporter division, the senior remained confident.

"We know how high we can shoot," Alvarez said. "This is what we want. We have trained so hard to get to this level.

"This is our dream -- to travel this far and take it all."

Page last updated Wed March 27th, 2013 at 11:59