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Hempfield rifle team right on target

| Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Members of the Hempfield rifle team captured the WPIAL championship last week. Submitted
Kayla Downing, 17, of Hempfield prepares for her shoot during the WPIAL individual rifle championships in the Dormont-Mt. Lebanon Sportsmen's Club in Canonsburg on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

Watching the way Hempfield's shooters congregated around Spartans rifle coach Tom Miller after the team won the WPIAL rifle championship last week, it was clear they appreciate their coach.

Even if it sometimes doesn't seem like it.

“I push them a little bit, but I have high expectations for them,” Miller said. “There's times they don't like me because my expectations are so high — but they usually do pretty well (at WPIAL championships).”

They sure do. A year after taking second place and three years after winning its first WPIAL rifle championship, Hempfield won another last week at the Dormont/Mt. Lebanon Sportsman's Club in Canonsburg.

That followed a state championship last year, and two days after the WPIAL team championships, junior Abbie Bache followed Nicole Metz as the second consecutive WPIAL individual champion from Hempfield.

Hempfield appears it could be in the early stages of establishing a WPIAL rifle dynasty.

“They all work real hard, and I just have high expectations for them — and I don't accept anything less,” Miller said.

“We start every year off with the same two goals. Goal No. 1 is to bring new shooters into our program. ... I strongly encourage freshmen and sophomores to come to our program, and we work real hard to get them acclimated into the program.

“Goal No. 1 is to build a team for next year. And the second goal is to win the WPIAL championship as team. The state is a bonus.”

Hempfield competed in the state championships at the Frazier Simplex Rifle Club in Washington earlier this week. Results were not known until teams from the eastern side of Pennsylvania competed in their own relays.

Whether Hempfield defends its state title or not, the Spartans certainly appear as if they're well-positioned to attain Miller's goal of building a team that can compete for championships next season.

Of the team's 10 shooters in the lineup for the WPIAL team championships, only two were seniors. All four of the individuals who finished among the top 14 in the WPIAL and thereby qualified for the state championships were juniors — Bache, Keegan Miller, Kelly O'Neill and Alex Thomas.

“We work really hard to get where we're at,” said Keegan Miller, who is Tom's daughter. “We've had our ups and downs and we fight through it. We come together as a team, even when it's hard and we have to fight through stuff. We've had a good year.”

Senior Kayla Dowling narrowly missed out on qualifying for the state championships. Senior Alex Pedder, junior Tyler Mincin, sophomore Nate Ligus and freshman Jake Prinkley and Mason Kemerer were the other starters.

“With our team, we have a different drive,” Bache said. “Other teams, when they're practicing for a match, they say they're practicing to beat the (next opponent). Our thing is, we practice and practice so much to beat a number. We don't care about who we're shooting or where we're shooting. We just want to get our personal goals.”

The Spartans are doing that with regularity these days. Bache's plight is a textbook example of Hempfield's recent successes. She was alerted of the sport by way of a school announcement during her freshman year.

“ ‘If you want to think about joining, go to the auditorium,' ” Bache recalled. “And I did. Coach seemed really nice, so I came and tried out, and it went better than I thought it would, so I stuck around — and now I'm here.”

A WPIAL champion.

Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.

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