CHURCH HILL — Volunteer High School's NJROTC Air Rifle Team shooters keep winning state and national titles, but there's one missing achievement that they hope to add to their resume later this month.
This past weekend, Volunteer's shooters won the state championship for the second year in a row and set the state record for high score at Montgomery Bell Academy (MBA) in Nashville.
Nobody even came close to them as junior co-captains Jaden-Ann Fraser and Nicole Carvagno placed first and second in the state respectively, while freshman Olivia Cattrell placed fourth and junior Hunter Drinnon placed fifth.
It was Fraser's second state championship in a row. She beat Carvagno by only one point.
The state championship is the perfect appetizer for what’s coming up for Volunteer’s shooters the weekend of March 21-23.
In February, the team traveled to Anniston, Alabama, to compete in the Navy Service JROTC Championships, where they placed second as a team. Individually, Fraser placed second, and Cattrell was third.
That finish qualified them for the all-service National JROTC Championship March 21-23, also in Anniston, where the best of the best shooters from Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine JROTCs from across the country have been invited to compete for a national title.
Volunteer qualified for this match last year, but it was in Phoenix, Arizona, and they couldn't afford travel expenses. They also qualified two years ago and weren't able to attend.
This time they’re going to what is considered the Super Bowl of JROTC shooting competitions, and the Volunteer shooters want to bring that trophy back to Church Hill.
"Something like 6,500 kids have competed to try to get to this competition, and they accept only the top five teams out of each branch,” Carvagno told the Times News during an after-school team practice Monday. “I think only 80 kids get to go."
Fraser added, "All of this team is super excited, and the most polite way to say it is we're out for blood. The best of the best all gang up and show what they've got."
Their “Super Bowl” preparation is the same as for any competitions. Shooting, shooting and then some more shooting.
But they've also been keeping an eye on their competitors’ scores, and it's looking like their regular main rivals will be the teams to beat.
Santa Fe (New Mexico) beat them in the Navy Service championship in Anniston last month, and they’re always fighting neck and neck with Nation Ford High School from Fort Mills, South Carlina.
"We're excited to see how the cards fall because we have a feeling all three of us are going to be on the podium," Fraser said. "It's just a matter of who will be where."
Fraser said, "Everything is repetition over and over again. Nothing changes except how much you do it. Just perfecting our craft."
"I think we all take it a bit more seriously the closer we get to a big competition. Three or four weeks before we have competitions, but it’s not a big one so we're talking and joking around. And then the closer we get to (big) competitions it’s a lot quieter, and it's like we've got something to prepare for," Carvagno said.
"We're honing in," Fraser said.
Are they feeling any pressure?
"I wouldn't say pressure because we know we're good. It's just we're excited about showing that to everybody else,” Fraser said.
The team is coached by Chief Norman Greear, who teaches Naval Sciences for the Volunteer NJROTC program.
Over the years, Greear's teams have won many major national titles, and he has coached multiple national-title winning individual shooters. But he said this year's team is the best he's ever coached.
"I've got two great captains," Greear said. "They're leading by example, and I think you're going to hear some good news pretty soon."
Volunteer has finished first or second as a team in every competition this year, and mostly first.
Greear said, “This past weekend, we were at the state competition and nobody could touch us. This is the best team I've ever had."
And his veterans are all juniors. He won’t lose anyone to graduation in 2019.
Greear said, "I've got one more year with them. This year is going to be an excellent year. Probably the best year I've ever had, and that's just going to set up for an even better year next year.