The mixed rifle team at the University of North Georgia (UNG), currently ranked 19th in the nation, is having a breakout season with talented freshmen bolstering its ranks. Mixed rifle encompasses NCAA Division I, II and III schools.
"This has been an amazing season so far," said head coach Tori Kostecki. "We have already broken the school record for highest score in smallbore, air rifle and aggregate. We have set new records for each of the past four years."
The team's top four shooters include two freshmen: Morgan Tritt and Heather Johnson, with sophomore Ruthanne Conner and junior Kyle Bailey completing the top group.
Tritt, from Dahlonega, has been shooting competitively for four years and said he is aiming to make the national team after graduating from UNG. His preferred event is standing air rifle.
"I've really been working on my natural point of aim with Coach Kostecki," said Heather Johnson, also from Dahlonega. She has a preference for three-position smallbore shooting, which requires competitors to shoot from standing, kneeling and prone positions. "Natural point of aim involves getting into position while aimed downrange and closing your eyes, and feeling where you're aiming. Having your body oriented naturally toward your target helps when aiming to hit it."
Earlier this season, Johnson smashed a personal and school record by scoring 580 points out of a possible 600 during smallbore competition. She is majoring in biology with a pre-veterinarian focus.
The team includes members from across north Georgia, representing Alpharetta, Dacula, Elberton, Lilburn, Marietta, Rocky Face, Roswell, and Winder. Students from Texas and Washington state round out the team.
Kostecki, who is in her fourth season as head coach, is also the team's first full-time coach. She graduated from UNG in 2011, after serving as captain of the mixed rifle team for four years and winning a national championship in her senior year.
"We've been increasing practices and workout to better prepare our athletes," Kostecki said. "We are now practicing for 12 hours a week instead of four, and we're focusing on exercises to improve core strength and stability, including an Olympic-based workout from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. We've also been working on adjusting our stances to allow for more bone support and less muscle support, and have implemented intensity drills to mimic the pressure of a formal match."
The team competed in the Junior Olympic Qualifier earlier this month, and Kostecki expects that at least two and possibly as many as five athletes shot well enough to qualify. The team has placed first in four of its nine matches so far this season and has only once finished below second place, coming in third out of six teams at the Withrow Invitational this past Saturday.
First place finishes for the team so far this season have included: the Senior Military College Championship, first out of three teams and the second time in a row UNG has won this competition; the Georgia State Championship, first out of three teams; a Southeastern Air Rifle Conference (SEARC) event at The Citadel, first out of six teams; and a match against the Virginia Military Institute. The team also finished second out of eight teams at a larger SEARC event at The Citadel in November.
The team has four matches remaining as well as the national qualifier on Feb. 18.