Volunteer’s NJROTC shooting team held off a serious comeback threat from an archrival Saturday to win the overall U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit's 2018 Junior Air Rifle Championship at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Meanwhile, sophomore Jaden-Ann Fraser saw her lead at the end of day one Friday disappear on Saturday, only to come back and win the individual shooter national championship on the last shot.
The nation’s top 30 high school NJROTC air rifle shooting teams and top 25 individual shooters were invited to compete at Fort Benning this past weekend.
VHS NJROTC naval science instructor and shooting coach Chief Norman Greear told the Times-News on Monday that the team did a tremendous job facing down the best of the best.
"I am so pleased," he said. "So happy. Another feather in our cap."
Greear added, "Going into the match I was very worried where we missed so much school (due to winter weather) and so much practice. I called around and talked to a couple of the teams and they were practicing twice a day, in the morning and then again in the afternoon. We just didn't have that opportunity to practice, but the kids pulled it off."
This was Fraser's second individual shooter national championship.
As a freshman, Fraser won the national championship last March (although it wasn’t announced until October) at the NRA National Air Rifle Championship in Walhalla, S.C.
Both the team and individual competitions were nail-biters that came down to the wire on Saturday.
At the end of day one, the team was up by 30 points, but on day two Volunteer's archrival, Nation Ford High School from Fort Mills, South Carolina, closed in and challenged for the lead.
Volunteer held on to defeat Nation Ford by 18 points, with Pueblo, Colorado, finishing third.
"Day one we had a commanding lead," Greear said. "Day two Nation Ford upped their game on us and put down some really big numbers, and our lead dwindled down."
As if that wasn't enough drama, the individual championship came down to the final shot.
From the first shot on day one, Fraser was at the top of the leader board, but on day two she slipped to third.
"As the elimination process took place, she slowly started coming back up the leader board, to second place," Greear said. "The very last shot of the match, Jaden took the lead and won by 2/10ths of a point. It was an Olympic-style competition, and day two was a nail-biter for Jaden. It was the closest match I've ever seen."
In 2016, Volunteer boasted the number one and number three individual shooters in the nation, as well as the nation's top team. That team was filled with veterans, and all but one shooter from 2016 is now gone.
This national championship team is young — mostly sophomores, with only one junior and one senior.
But what they lack in experience, they make up in work ethic. Greear said there's no secret to their success. It's just practice and hard work.
“It's the long hours," he said. "It's the long practices that we put in. That's where our success comes from. The kids want to be there. They want to compete in these national matches, and they're willing to put in the hours with me."
The members of the team are senior and team captain Megan Painter, sophomore Jaden-Ann Fraser, sophomore Hunter Drinnon, sophomore Nicole Carvagno, sophomore Maritsa Wolfe, sophomore Cassidy “Booch” Hawkins, and junior Taya Mulkey.