22-Cavalier Rifle Team is 5-1 This Season
Strong start gives Cavaliers promise for regional competition
All you need to become an expert marksman on the W.T. Woodson Rifle Team is the desire to work.
“When people discover it, it has a very strong appeal to some of them,” said first-year coach Jay Cliff. “It’s up to you, entirely unlike football or baseball. There’s nobody trying to prevent you from doing well. The thing that prevents you from doing well is yourself.”
The red-hot, 5-1 Cavalier squad consists of 22 shooters this season – a bump up from years past. Five of those shooters are designated as scorers during competition. But only the top four scores count for the team’s overall score.
Student shooters use an air rifle powered by compressed air, which discharges a tiny pellet. Each contestant has a 55-minute block of time to hit a target two inches in diameter from 10 meters away. Inside that target is a pencil-mark sized dot worth 10 points. No scopes allowed, only iron sights fixed on top of the rifle.
“Its actually impossible to view the scoring rings from the 10-meter distance,” Cliff said. “You just align the entire target in your sights. The idea of hitting that little dot when you can’t even see it – when they’re able to do that there’s a sense of accomplishment.”
Twice a year the team competes in smallbore, where an actual 22-caliber round is used from farther distances.
Each member of the team shoots from three different positions: standing, kneeling and prone. The shooter gets 10 practice-type shots and 10 record shots that count towards his or her score. But with 22 members on the team and only seven shooting stands available, the team has separate relays in order to let every student to compete.
“We try to get through as many relays as we can in the time allotted,” Cliff said. “They get a 55-minute block of time to shoot 30 scoring shots.”
Woodson’s rifle team is a club team that has varsity privileges. Shooters who qualify receive a varsity letter. The only difference between a standard varsity sport and Cliff’s team is they do not have use of the school facilities for practice or competition. Instead, the Cavaliers practice at Izaak Walton Air Rifle Range in Centreville. The center blocks off a few hours per week for the team.
For the Woodson team, every hour they spend at the range is critical.
“It’s such a demanding sport,” Cliff said. “There’s a huge mental component to this. It does take focus and not everybody has that. For some it’s a learned skill.”
Cliff and his team have just four more meets before the regional tournament at Landon High in Bethesda on Feb. 18. Each school gets to send four shooters. Others may receive invitations to the tournament depending on their performance throughout the 2011-12 season.
“We sort of put a premium of getting freshmen or at the very latest getting sophomores started," Cliff said. "A lot of these kids practice pretty much year-round as part of other teams when high school season is over. The harder you work at this, the more pay off you get.”
W.T. Woodson competes next on Feb. 2 at St. John’s at 4:30 p.m.
Editor's Note: Standing position incorrectly noted as only Olympic rifle event. This has been deleted.