Hempfield rifle team again on target
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Coming off two consecutive PIAA championships, the Hempfield rifle team has developed into the preeminent program in the state.
Losing just two seniors from last year's team, the Spartans appeared to be loaded once again entering this season as the team everyone else would be looking up to.
While those kinds of expectations might put added pressure on some teams, the 2013-14 campaign has been business as usual for Hempfield.
“I wouldn't say there's more pressure,” Spartans coach Tom Miller said. “These kids that are returning — so sophomores on through seniors — they know the program and they know that we're trying to win a title. That's just what we do.
“We're here to win. I wouldn't say there's more pressure this year than years past.”
On the surface, Hempfield appears to show no signs of slowing down, standing at 9-0 while aiming once again to capture the WPIAL Section 3 title.
But despite their record, Miller doesn't believe the Spartans are where they need to be at this point in the season.
“I'd say we're a little bit behind schedule. ... (It's going to take) a lot of hard work, a lot of mental preparation,” Miller said. “This sport is largely being mentally prepared to shoot, and right now, we're struggling with that. It's not the mechanics of the shooting sport.
“The kids that are shooting varsity have the mechanics. It's being mentally prepared to accomplish your goals each day that you lay down to shoot.”
Led by six seniors, the Spartans still have a few weeks left of practice at the Keystone Rod and Gun Club in Hannastown to improve on the mental aspect before the WPIAL Championships on Feb. 11.
Abbie Bache, Keegan Miller, Kelly O'Neill and Alex Thomas played key roles on last year's WPIAL runner-up and state title team, and have continued to lead as seniors this season.
Tyler Mincin and Cody Wassel have given solid contributions as well.
That type of depth has been a key to Hempfield's success. While 10 shooters compete in each match, only the top eight scores (10 in the case of a tiebreaker) count.
Carrying 29 members on its roster, there has been no shortage of competition for those top 10 spots.
“There's a lot of in-house competition,” Miller said. “It's stiff competition, but it's understood. This is largely based on the numbers that they shoot and an average that they run each week, and that's how I choose those top 10 kids.”
That kind of competition is helping to achieve one of Miller's two goals that he has entering every season, a set of goals that based on its recent success, the team clearly has reached the past few seasons.
“At the beginning of the year, I have the same two goals every year,” Miller said. “One is to put a team together to win the WPIAL championship and then onto the state championship, and the other is to build a team that can accomplish that same goal next year.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.
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