Rifle cruises to win, looks to Nationals

Cole Bures takes aim during a practice session on the day before the NCAA qualifiers this past Friday. Photo by Jesse Hoff/The Sun Star

By Tom Hewitt
Sun Star Reporter

Midway through the standing air rifle event at the Patty Center Saturday, Billy Galligan set his rifle on the stand, stepped back, and walked out of the gym. Returning a few minutes later, he flashed a sheepish grin. “I was doing too well for my own good,” he said. “I needed a break so I didn’t wreck it for myself.”

That impulse – not wanting to do too well for its own good – seemed the guiding philosophy for the Nanook rifle team this weekend. Their match, an NCAA qualifier with the University of Alabama Birmingham, saw team members post strong but not breathtaking scores across the board. But that’s fine by Coach Dan Jordan and his squad.

“The point at this match wasn’t to peak,” said junior Ida Petersen after the team posted a 4,677 overall score for the weekend. “We want to be peaking in March, at nationals. It was a really good score, but it wasn’t the monster score we’ll be looking for then.”

Still, the Nanooks’ score was high enough to not only beat the visiting Birmingham squad, but also to top the score of 4,659 that UAF’s top rival, first-ranked West Virginia, posted for the weekend.

Senior Patrik Sartz led the team. He posted scores of 581 and 594 (out of 600 possible) on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Among those giving support were senior Jace Bures and junior Cody Rutter, who posted identical scores both days – 581 Saturday and 587 Sunday.

This weekend was supposed to see teams across the nation shoot scores to set the bar for individual and team qualifying scores at this year’s NCAA championships. This weekend’s blizzard in the Midwest kept a few teams from their matches, however, so those on the bubble will spend a week on pins and needles before the snowed-out teams make up their matches and qualifying scores are released. Alaska’s team shooters are assured of a place at the competition, but a few Nanooks looking to qualify individually are now playing the waiting game.

“Taylor [Beard] shot a 588 in air gun, which is a really solid score – she’s probably in for sure,” Galligan said Sunday. “But Aaron [Holsopple] and Layne [Lewis] are on the bubble for smallbore– last year the individual qualifying score was right around 579 or 580.” Holsopple shot a 579 in smallbore Saturday, while Lewis shot a 578.

With the qualifying match out of the way, the team is now looking ahead to nationals, scheduled for March 12 and 13 at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. “The plan is to shoot hard for the next couple of weeks, then taper in the week before competition,” Petersen said.

This year’s national competition promises to be a close one between the second-ranked Nanooks and the nation-leading West Virginia Mountaineers. Alaska’s only match loss this year came at the Mountaineers’ hands, but the Nooks are optimistic about their chances in Texas. West Virginia will be without its strongest shooter, Nicco Campriani, a transfer student who is opting to shoot at the European Championships instead of NCAA Nationals. “They’re going to take a 20-30 point hit right there,” Galligan said.

The Mountaineers and other teams will remain potent threats, however, and the Nanooks know it. “There are a lot of good teams out there,” Galligan said. “Kentucky can always put up a big score, and TCU is huge in air gun. They’re also at home, so that will be an advantage for them.”

Petersen agreed, recalling the Alaska squad’s shocking fourth-place finish last year, when the usually dominant Nanooks were defeated by West Virginia, Kentucky, and Jacksonville. “It’s probably good to have a little humility going in,” she said. “Anything can happen.”

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