Marrisa Furney's patience paid off.

It was something she didn't even realize she had until she picked up an air-rifle for the first time her freshman year at Columbus High School, she said.

"When I first started, I had never held a gun before in my life," she said. "(My coaches) had to teach me everything.

"I remember crying because I was so nervous at my first match. It was definitely a lot of fun because it was so new to me and I picked up on it really fast. Having that talent and using it to my advantage to pursue a dream, it felt really good. Freshman year was definitely a fun year."

Now the senior Blue Devil is ready to graduate as one of the area's most decorated high-school shooters in recent history. Furney's senior year was one to remember as well -- she was the top individual shooter at the JROTC National Air Rifle Championships, signed a scholarship Friday with Columbus State in front of friends and Family at Columbus and earned the bronze medal Saturday at the Georgia High School Association Three-Position Air Rifle State Championship.

Saturday's state tournament was held at the Pool International Shooting Complex on Fort Benning. After shooting a 274 at last year's state and finishing a forgettable 56th overall, Furney shot a 292 with a 99 in the prone, 96 standing and 97 kneeling. The score was good for fourth in the qualifying round and Furney moved on to the final round of eight.

Furney shot a 99.4 in the final (10 shots, standing) to work her way up to third place and fell just a tenth of a point short from finishing second. Heather Johnson of Lumpkin County won the silver medal with a total of 391.5. Rebecca Godwin of North Forsyth won the gold after shooting 294 in the qualifier and a solid 99.1 to win by 1.6 points with a total of 393.1. Godwin started the finals with an 8.6 on her first shot but never went lower than 9.7 the rest of the way.

Furney also had a black mark on her scorecard in the finals -- an 8.4 on the second shot after hitting a 10.6 on her first one.

"I realized I couldn't shoot any more 8s," Furney said. "I really stepped it up and it came through at the end.

"I think if I focused more on that shot, my placement would have been different."

After winning the JROTC nationals, which were held in Anniston, Ala., expectations for Furney to win a state championship were high. But given the disappointment she suffered last year, she was proud of herself knowing she competed this year, she said.

"I knew there were some good shooters here in the state," she said. "Rebecca Godwin was also in the nationals right next to me."

Northside finishes fourth as team
Northside High School air rifle coach retired Lt. Col. Richard Brewer said the week of practice his team had leading up to Saturday's state tournament made him optimistic about winning the whole thing.

The Patriots fell 10 points short of doing that, finishing fourth with a total score of 1,135 points. Union Grove took first place with 1,145, followed by North Forsyth (1,140) and 2011 champion Lumpkin County (1,140).

"I think I got teased this week with our practice scores," Brewer said. "I thought on Monday, 'We really might have a shot at this thing.'

"I can't help thinking that we left 20 points out there today."

Senior Sydney Calhoun finished her shooting career with a 284, a four-point drop off from last year's qualifying round, which was good enough to put her into the finals, where she finished fourth overall. This year she finished 23rd.

"I definitely didn't do my best," she said. "I don't know what happened. It's heartbreaking. The expectations were higher."

Calhoun said she shot a 290 and a 287 earlier in the week during practice.

"When I finished shooting today, I was like, 'Really?'" she said.

Northside was one of only three teams to have all four team members shoot above 280, and the team is returning four of its top six shooters, including Brianna Henthorn, who led the Patriots with a 285, and freshmen Cason Borum (284) and Shelby Huber (282).

"That lets us go into the fall right where we ended the season," Brewer said. "Those two freshmen have a lot of potential. For them to be above 280 their first time at state, that's wonderful. Cason just started shooting this fall. I'm very proud of him."