Their target is the size of a half dollar, a black dot small enough to carry around in a pants pocket with a tiny white pin prick in the center. The dot sits in a field of white either 10 meters for air rifle or 50 feet for smallbore.
Practice for the Murray State rifle team begins at 5:30 a.m. and requires a kind of patience and focus not present in other sports.
“You have to be patient,” said Bill Harvey, junior shooter. “You have to be able to stay calm. It can get frustrating, especially since you’re standing up there for so long and the shots don’t always go where you want them to. You have to be able to relax and breathe and then get focused again.”
Even more patience is required to cope with a University largely unaware of the rifle team’s presence, much less its successes. Despite its two NCAA and 11 OVC championships, the rifle team remains one of Murray State’s most winning secrets.
“(A rifle) isn’t something you twirl in the air,” Harvey said. “A lot of people think we do color guard stuff. I have to tell them that’s not what we do.”
In addition to preparing for the grueling mental aspect of the sport, shooters also have to be in shape physically.
What looks like monotony on one side of the glass takes a physical and mental toll on the other.
Maintaining the posture required to hit the white pin prick at the center of their target takes strength and endurance.
“You have to build up so much stamina to be able to stand there for that period of time,” Harvey said. “A lot of people don’t know how physically and mentally demanding it is. If you tried to stand up there for an hour and 45 minutes in the same spot, it hurts your back and your legs. It’s more mentally demanding than anything else you could do. We shoot a match on Saturday. We start at eight in the morning and shoot smallbore. You get two hours for that, then you have a 30 minute break and then another hour and 45 minutes for air rifle. So from eight until one o’clock it’s nothing but shooting.”
While it may take physical strength and mental endurance to compete during the season, Head Coach Alan Lollar looks for more from his shooters than ability alone.
“Obviously you look for a certain level of skill,” Lollar said. “They need to be at a certain level to help us as soon as possible. Beyond that I’m looking for someone who can convince me that they’re going to work hard for four years. That they want to be the best they can be. They’re willing to listen to me and work with me to figure out the best way for them to shoot. It’s not necessarily my way, but cooperate and try to find the way that works best and understand that it’s a process and a journey and believe that’s half the fun.”
This season the rifle team added four freshman shooters. The Racers now consists of seven freshmen and sophomores and three upperclassmen.
“I’m really excited about these freshmen,” Lollar said. “Tessa Howald is from Missouri. She’s a really hardworking, good young shooter who has a good standing position. Like a lot of high school shooters, she didn’t get to shoot a lot of smallbore because of lack of range time, and so she’s making her adjustments from three position air to three position smallbore now, and once she does that, I think she’s going to have a really nice year.”
Kaitlyn Wilson is a smallbore shooter from Pennsylvania. She will help the team in both smallbore and air, Lollar said.
“Her mental approach to the shot is very tough and I think she’s going to do a good job for us,” he said.
Other incoming freshmen include Hannah Harris and Ryan Limpus.
“Harris is a hard worker. She does a lot of things well and we’re looking for some big things out of her in the future,” Lollar said. “Limpus is from Tennessee. He has only shot for a couple of years, but he’s shown a lot of improvement over the last year. We’re hoping that with a little more experience and a little more training time he’ll be able to help us down the road somewhere.”
With more than two weeks remaining before their first match of the season and with the team returning to the range near the level they ended last season, there’s little doubt the Racers will be more than ready when their season begins.
“I’ve been really pleased,” Lollar said. “We came back in pretty good physical shape so that we’re not too sore after work outs. I think it’s going to be a big year for some upperclassmen. (They) will have to step up into leadership spots maybe a year earlier than they thought they might have had to. It’s time for them to grow up and take their turn now, we’ll see how it goes.”
The Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association 2012-13 Preseason Poll, released on Monday, has the Racers ranked eighth in the nation behind schools such as Texas Christian University (1), University of Kentucky (2), and West Virginia University (3). The poll is voted on by 14 different coaches from around the country. The Racers were the second highest ranked OVC team, coming in one spot behind rival Jacksonville State.
Led by lone senior Caroline Barber, along with juniors Michael Burzynski and Bill Harvey, the young team will rely heavily on freshmen and sophomores to have successful seasons.
The rifle team will strive to continue the tradition of excellence that has been established over the last several decades. They begin their season Sept. 30 at home against UT-Martin and Columbus State.
Story by Kyra Ledbetter, Staff writer