Air Force Rifle
Sept. 18, 2006
It is the first thing the team members see when they walk into the USAFA Cadet Rifle Range. The vibrant poster shows the entire rifle team bunched together in a joyful embrace, arms reaching upward to support the rifle team captain's hand, whose index finger is pointed skyward. Their faces are ebullient, and a faint blue aura seems to surround the team, binding them in a timeless celebration of unity. You can almost hear them chanting, "Were number one, we're number one, we're number one . . . ."
Stretching in bold letters across the top of the poster is the phrase, "Money, Fame, or Passion . . . ." Across the bottom are the words, ". . . What's YOUR Motivation?"
For the members of the USAFA NCAA Div I Rifle team, motivation is indeed the key concept for the 2006-07 season. With only one returning member of the first team, and a total of only two upperclassmen on the roster, the Falcon shooters will need all the motivation they can muster.
According to this season's team captain, C1C Jessica Palomba, finding motivation to succeed won't be an issue. "We're as excited to begin this season as we've ever been," said the Charlotte, N.C., native. "We're facing a bigger challenge than we've ever seen, but that's pretty thrilling for us. We definitely have the potential to reach our goals, and we're going to surprise a lot of people," she added.
The Cadets shot their way to an 8-7 record last season, their first winning season in four years. In addition, they defeated teams from Navy, UTEP, and Reno, all of them rivals who had bested the Falcons over several previous contests. They also set two school records, and their final national ranking was 10th, up from 13th the previous season, and 17th the year before that. They were definitely going in the right direction.
This year, however, the cadets will need more than momentum to carry them to the national prominence they seek. The Falcons graduated Chris Hill, a three-time All-American, and Timmy Siemer, the team's Most Valuable Player. They were also sad to lose freshman Clifton Mulkey, who left the Academy to pursue a career with the National Security Agency. "Although we'll miss them, we're just going to reload, step up, and make the best of it," proclaimed Palomba.
She has good reason to be optimistic; the first-year cadets continued to improve throughout last season, and Palomba herself was a model of consistency. She fired nine scores of 580 X 600 or higher, an incredible feat, especially considering that last year was just her second season of intercollegiate competition. "If she puts up scores like that this year, and tacks on a couple of personal records early on, she will definitely be an All-American candidate," said Lt Col Bill Roy, assistant coach. "She's in a perfect position to lead this team where they want to go--the NCAA Championships."
Helping in that quest will be junior Justin Raines, the only other upperclassman on the team. Raines had several impressive Air Rifle performances as a freshman, and he began contributing to the team as a Smallbore shooter his sophomore season. "I really think Justin will have a break-out season this year. He's smart, disciplined, determined, and he knows how to work," added assistant coach Bill Roy.
The Falcons will need a lot of help from their crop of sophomores, all of whom demonstrated great progress and potential last year. C3C Chelsea Welsh was especially impressive, as she shot eight Personal Records in her first year of competitive shooting. Sophomores Daniel Cannard, Andrew Cooper, and Ryan Lowenstein also had moments of brilliance, and their classmate Brian Jarrell should be strong in the Smallbore event.
Working to the Falcons' advantage is a schedule that pits them against familiar foes at UTEP, Reno, TCU, and the other service academies. The biggest scheduled match of the year, the NCAA Qualifying match, takes place on the Falcons' home turf on February 10th, 2007. If the team members' scores are among the top eight in the nation, they'll earn an invitation to the National Championships in March, 2007. The team's last appearance there was in 2001.
"Can we make it to the Championships this year?" coach Roy wondered aloud. "I absolutely believe we can." His eyes tracked up to the poster: "But motivation--and not just talent--will be the key."