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Bull’s-eye: Alden’s Noah Fox inches closer to perfection

Noah Fox’s only remaining goal in the sport of high school rifle just might be unreachable: perfection.

The Alden senior already has state championships to his credit. This year he broke his own ECIC record with a score of 293 out of a possible 300 in air rifle. And Fox has led the Bulldogs to their usual spot on top of the ECIC standings.

Nobody gets a perfect score of 300 in high school rifle. It’s just not done. For the time being, Fox has lowered his sights just a shade.

“Mom wants me to get 295 because coach gives out a patch for it,” Fox said. “She wants it more than I do.”

Let’s consider how amazing a score of 293 is. Each shooter has 30 shots in a competition. In air rifle, the target is 10 meters or 33 feet away. The bull’s-eye is two-hundredths of an inch in diameter. A score of 293 means the shooter hit 23 10’s and seven 9’s in a given round.

The difference between a 10 and a 9 on the target?

“About a millimeter,” Fox said.

“I’ve never seen a 300 at this level,” Alden coach Paul Borkowski said. “In college, where the course has 600 points, 590s are common. In one match Noah did shoot 99 out of 100 at one target in Orchard Park. But you won’t see 300s here.”

Fox says he’ll strive to reach a 30-for-30 day, no matter how unlikely it is. Then again, his whole career has been something out of a storybook. Fox showed up for practice as a freshman one day, merely hoping for a chance to make the team.

“Basically it was just my friends that got me into it,” he said. “I didn’t pick up guns and practice beforehand. I had shot at my grandpa’s a bit.”

Friend and neighbor Michael McMurtree joined him at that first Bulldogs’ practice. McMurtree figured out in short time that his classmate had a chance to be good.

“He’s unnaturally calm at what he does,” he said. “Everyone else before matches gets nervous, especially the lowerclassmen. Ever since he was a freshman, he’d come to matches and he wouldn’t be nervous at all. He’d act like it was a practice. He could just come up and zone in on the target. Not a lot of people can do that.

“A lot of people who join the team have shot guns in their lives before. They shoot a lot. Before he joined the team, he didn’t shoot a lot. It’s something that came naturally to him. The first time he picked up a rifle, he was naturally better than everyone else trying out. It was insane.”

Fox qualified for the varsity and earned a letter in ninth grade, which is relatively rare, and he really caught on to the demands of the sport as a sophomore. He qualified for the state championships in West Point at the end of that season. By then it was time to start wondering just how good Fox could become.

“When we were first joining the team, I never would have thought of him going this far,” McMurtree said. “Once I saw him sophomore year, I saw him beat our top shooter, Alyson Sylvester. That’s when we saw Noah stepping up.”

Sylvester went on to win an individual state championship and now shoots for the University at Akron.

Fox’s junior year put him squarely in the spotlight. He won four individual state championships at West Point, and led Alden and Section VI to state team titles. He was an easy choice for Prep Talk Player of the Year for The Buffalo News.

What could he do for an encore as a senior? Simply get better.

“He’s been amazing,” Borkowski said. “Last year his dad bought him an air rifle. It’s an expensive one, and since then he’s been shooting fantastic. Last year he set the ECIC and sectional record, and this year he broke his own ECIC record.”

“I surprise myself all the time, breaking my own records and getting better every year,” Fox said.

Last week, Fox shot a 290.19 against Iroquois in a .22 match, including a 99.07 score in prone. The 290 tied a career high and is an ECIC season best.

Even though Fox hasn’t completed his senior year, it’s not too soon to proclaim him as one of Alden’s all-time greats. Considering the great tradition of the program, that’s saying a lot.

“He’s the best air-gun shooter we’ve ever had,” Borkowski said. “I had a kid come through in 1990 who went to the Air Force Academy. We’ll see where Noah is with the .22-caliber at the end of the year. Then I’ll tell you which one is better there.”

Having a state champion in the lineup helps a team’s chances of winning competitions. Fox has led the Bulldogs to the top of the ECIC standings again this season.

“It’s really good to have him on the team,” McMurtree said. “We do about 15, 16 matches a year, and without him maybe 20 of our wins wouldn’t have happened. He’s just naturally good.”

Borkowski says he doesn’t have to do much coaching when it comes to Fox. Sometimes he’ll remind the senior of time limits during matches. Shooters often need a little time to forget about a relatively bad shot, but they should average about a shot every minute or two depending on the event.

What’s more, Borkowski has Fox and some of the other upperclassmen coach the newcomers on the team.

“He sees things I don’t see,” the veteran coach said. “I get most of my older kids to coach. They see things they’ve been doing wrong as they try to correct the younger shooters.”

“Even our coach can see that he communicates with the other kids really well,” McMurtree said.

“He knows how to get them going. He knows what he is doing. He can sit down and show them what they are doing and explain how to do it better.

“That will drastically increase scores.”

The postseason is approaching. Before Fox knows it, his interscholastic career will end. He’ll have to decide about his next step as he picks a college.

“I’ve been looking into it,” Fox said. “There are college scholarships, either full or three-quarters, at Division I colleges. I’ve been looking into places like Kentucky and Ohio State. There are none around here.”

“His dad and I have talked about it,” said Borkowski, noting that Fox’s father has attended all of his son’s matches. “I don’t even know if he wants to shoot in college. You don’t want to push it. They’ve got to want it. A lot of shooting is done” with the mind.

And while there’s no professional league waiting for him after college, the Olympic Games remain as a tempting goal. Fox finished 39th in the Junior Olympics in Colorado last summer, placing ninth in his age group.

“It’s something on my bucket list,” Fox said with a smile.

email: bbailey@buffnews.com