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State champion Hempfield rifle team poised for promising future

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Keegan Miller, 17, of Hempfield shoots 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

The Hempfield High School rifle team may not be the most well-known group in the WPIAL, but it's quickly — and quietly — becoming one of its most decorated.

The Spartans recently captured their second consecutive state championship, which was held at the Frazier Simplex Rifle Club in Washington.

The state crown came days after Hempfield won the WPIAL team championship.

Defending the state team title at the beginning of the season, however, may have seemed like a long shot.

Tom Miller, known as a demanding coach, lost some key team members from a year ago and had to fill the starting lineup with several inexperienced underclassmen — including two freshmen. The Spartans have just two seniors.

“This was definitely a harder title to win,” Miller said. “We had to fill some spaces in the starting lineup with some kids with little or no experience. I can't say enough about the amount of work they put in to win another title. They really put in a lot of hard work all season.”

The Spartans edged runner-up McGuffey, 974-969, at the state competition. Tyler Mincin, Kayla Dowling and Alex Thomas led Hempfield with scores of 198, 195 and 194, respectively. All three were named to the all-tournament team.

“For kids to do well in this sport, it takes several things,” Miller said.

“First off, they have to be willing to learn and have a drive to do it. They must be able to be mentally prepared. This group was able to do all those things and perform at a very high level under stressful circumstances.”

On an individual basis, the Spartans had four members finish in the top 25 — Abbie Bache (10th), Alex Thomas (12th), Keegan Miller (15th) and Kelly O'Neill (24th).

At the WPIAL individual championships, Bache won her second consecutive gold.

Hempfield could be poised for a potential state three-peat next year: Bache, Miller, O'Neill and Thomas are all juniors.

Miller is banking on the program's success as the key to it continuing to grow.

“When you win, and win at a high level, kids recruit themselves,” Miller said. “I like to think our record does the recruiting. This is a hard sport. We spend half of each practice on the mental side of things. Most of our kids come to us with little or no firearm experience, which we prefer because they won't have too many bad habits. But these are smart kids. They take what we teach them and apply it.”

But, as Miller's track record shows, he's awfully good at teaching the sport.

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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