LEXINGTON, Va. -- The Bears captured the Air Rifle Championship at the 2016 Mid Atlantic Rifle Conference Championship.
The Bears closed the regular season in a bit of a slump and spent the intervening weeks working on areas of concern. They faced Smallbore competition against VMI and Massachusetts Institute of Technology with confidence but knew that all three teams were evenly matched as only 0.003 points, on average, separated the three teams.
After the first stage, kneeling, MIT held a three point lead over the Coast Guard while VMI was 24 points behind the leader. Prone saw MIT hold on to its lead while VMI gained on the Bears. Going into standing, the final stage of the match, MIT held a ten point advantage over Coast Guard while VMI was 26 points behind the leader. Coast Guard whittled away at MIT's lead but the Kaydets of VMI were chewing away at the Bears. In the end MIT held on to win the Smallbore Championship with a 2217 to Coast Guard's 2210. VMI's incredible standing stage assault on Coast Guard fell just three nail biting points short when the final VMI rifleman, who had been doing well, came up with a disastrous five on the last shot of the match. The smallbore championships mirrored the regular season standings with MIT, Coast Guard, and VMI finishing in that order.
Junior Lindsey Critser posted the third highest individual score in the match, a 558, which would portend future events. She was supported by Team Captain Nick Paisker, 555, and Freshmen Skye Ambrose, 548, and Alexandria Harrington, 549.
The Bears were smarting after having let the smallbore title slip away and faced air rifle competition with a grim determination. John Jay, MIT, and Coast Guard had ended the regular season all at 9-1. Standings were so close that the third decimal place of team's averages were needed to decide the season's standings putting the Bears in third. Air Rifle would be no walk in the park for any of the teams.
There were four John Jay shooters in the top ten individuals at the end of the regular season, ranked three, six, eight and ten. MIT boasted number one and two while Coast Guard had the fourth fifth, and tenth place finishers.
As they took to the line the Bears were mindful that John Jay was favored and Coast Guard's only season Air Rifle loss had come at the hands of John Jay at home. They also didn't want to face a ten hour drive back to New London and then head off to Spring Leave empty handed without a Conference Championship.
Coast Guard finished the first string of fire with a two point lead over John Jay and eight points on MIT. After the second string the gap had widened to six points while MIT began to fade, Halfway through the 60 shot match John Jay staged a comeback and narrowed the Bear's lead to three.
Coast Guard bounced back during the fourth string and picked up the lost points, and then some, ending in the lead by ten points. The Bears continued to execute their shot plan and entered the final ten shots with a 17 point cushion but well aware that, as VMI found out earlier, in shooting humility can only be one shot away.
While the fans and coaches can follow the action on the scoreboard, the shooters on the firing line are only aware of, and can only concentrate on, their own performance. Those following the tense play between Coast Guard and John Jay were drawn to MIT's Sarah Wright shooting her last collegiate match. On her 51st shot she fired a ten and methodically fired nine more to end her academic shooting career with a perfect score on her last string much to the delight of the crowd and herself.
On the other end of the range Coast Guard's Critser, knowing that every shot counted, had put her rifle down and actually did a little tap dance to work off nervous energy. Normally a quick shooter, she was now down to her final shot with just two minutes on the clock. Shortly after picking up her rifle she fired the last shot of the match nailing down an Air Rifle Championship for Coast Guard and, just like in Smallbore, a third place over all.
Coast Guard's victory was sweet but it was not just based on Critser's performance. It was the result of a very consistent and tactically well executed performance by each team member. Critser was high on team with a 574 but Paisker contributed a solid 571, Ambrose produced another 571-a personal best for the freshman, and fellow freshman Harrington posted a 570. Consistency pays dividends in the shooting sports and it did so for the Bears who also logged the highest team aggregate score of the tournament, a 4496, just missing their elusive goal of 4500 by four points.
Head Shooting Coach Rick Hawkins was pleased with the team's overall performance. "We were disappointed that we left some points on the table that allowed the smallbore title to escape us. The team was disappointed, but not dismayed. Competing in air rifle, the team showed maturity and resolve, moving on to shoot a technically excellent air rifle match. It was a very good year in which the team, mostly freshman, set numerous individual and school records and has begun establishing a culture of hard work and excellence."
The season ended on a high note with a winning record and a conference championship. The team moves into the 2016-17 competitive season without losing any members, new athletes on the horizon in the class of 2020, and a renewed confidence in their ability to perform well.