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Rifle team caps season with program records for scoring and ranking

2019 rifle team strong season
The UNG rifle team finished the 2018-19 season as the No. 18 team in the country.

The University of North Georgia (UNG) rifle team finished another strong season by setting a program record for its average score with a 4,612 and a program-best final national ranking of No. 18.

UNG capped the year with a second-place finish at the Southern Conference (SoCon) Championship held March 2-3 in Statesboro, Georgia.

Rifle is a sport in which Division I, Division II and Division III schools compete against each other, and UNG finished in first place in seven of its 14 events this season, including earning its sixth consecutive state title Jan. 12. It is one of only two Division II athletics departments with a rifle team.

The defending SoCon champion Nighthawks finished with 4,571 points at the SoCon event, 11 points behind first-place UAB and 15 points ahead of third-place The Citadel.

Head coach Tori Kostecki said her group's teamwork made for a successful season.

Tobin Sanctuary, a junior team captain who took first place in the SoCon championship in smallbore, was a first-team all-conference honoree in smallbore and a second-team pick in air rifle. Sanctuary said he and his teammates appreciate the support they receive from the Athletics Department, which gave the rifle team a sendoff March 1 for the SoCon championship. Sanctuary was one of four team members to earn first- or second-team All-SoCon honors.

Ricky Medina, a sophomore who took second place in the air rifle event at the SoCon championship, was a first-team all-conference performer in air rifle and smallbore. Medina set school records in smallbore (584) and aggregate score (1,170) during the 2018-19 season.

"Whenever anybody comes off the line, the first thing that everybody else does is swarm them and tell them they did a great job. Just really supportive and encouraging," Medina said. "It builds a lot of team morale. That's a pretty big thing in this sport is to keep your head up because if your mind's not in the right place, then your scores won't be either."

Senior Lucas Gilliland and sophomore Kimberlee Nettles were on the all-conference second team in both events.

"We set a lot of goals and met a lot of those goals," Nettles said. "When we reach those goals, it's special because we know we're making history for our school and our team."

Gilliland pointed to the team's consistency as vital to its success, especially after graduating three seniors from its 2017-18 SoCon championship team.

Kostecki said her team thrives on shooting against teams such as Kentucky, Army and Ohio State during the season. Sanctuary echoed that sentiment.

"We're in a Division II school, but we get to compete against the big guys," Sanctuary said. "That's exciting and a lot of fun. And you get to meet a lot of amazing people and dedicated shooters."

Team members Medina, Veronica Stanley and Arica Hayes each qualified for the Junior Olympics for their performance at the USA Shooting Junior Olympics Georgia State Championship. Medina had the top score there in air rifle (584) and smallbore (567). Stanley and Hayes each scored a 572 in the smallbore. The Junior Olympics for rifle are set for April 6-19 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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