2016 Section VI team champions: Air rifle – Alden. .22-caliber – Lancaster.
Returning 2016 Section VI individual discipline champions: Prone – Kiersten Mucha (Lancaster).
Changes: If this was a game of Jeopardy, Lancaster would be the answer to the following question: Who was the last rifle team to win a Section VI title in the .22-caliber event?
The state did away with the .22-caliber competition because of finances and cleanup concerns, according to Section VI chairman Paul Borkowski.
The .22 has been replaced by an air rifle event called the 3-position. In this competition, shooters earn points based on their ability to hit targets from prone, standing and kneeling positions. Section VI will crown team and individual champions in the usual 30-shot standing with an air rifle and the 3-position.
The ammo used with an air rifle is a small, coated-lead pellet.
"It's a lot cheaper once you get past the initial cost of getting the air rifle," Borkowski said. "You can shoot an air rifle anywhere. You don't need a special backstop. You don't have to worry about lead in the air. … It's a lot safer."
Five-hundred rounds of ammunition for the .22s cost roughly $2,850, he said. The same number of rounds for air-rifle pellets cost $500.
The section splits the shooting disciplines during the season but both 30-round standing and 3-position will be contested during the Section VI and state competitions.
New coach, old coach: Borkowski remains Section VI chairman but he stepped down as head coach of Alden after 46 seasons. He's still around the Bulldogs, though, serving as an assistant to his former assistant, Art Eggink.
Eggink said being coach would be much more difficult if not for Borkowski's presence.
“It’s great. I wouldn’t have had it any other way," Eggink said. "He’s a wealth of knowledge. We have 21 kids on the team, eight of them are new. Having the extra hands … having that knowledge available to me has been invaluable.”
Life without Fox: Alden hasn't appeared to have any let up even though it graduated Prep Talk Awards Player of the Year and past state champion Noah Fox. That's because returning Bulldogs put in the work during the offseason in hopes of ascending to the No. 1 role on the team.
While Alden's top four consists of Emily Szymanski, Megan Gabbey, Maggie Arnold and Cailyn Bennett, they are being pushed by Nick King, Miranda Koch and Amanda Attardo, according to Eggink.
“Our athletes have stepped up a great deal this year," Eggink said. "With Noah not being there, there wasn't a clear top shooter so they were all focusing on trying to be that top shooter."
Talent watch: Fox may have graduated but the cupboard isn't bare in Section VI.
Kiersten Mucha, who won the prone event at sectionals, returns for Lancaster. She recently set the Section VI record in the 3-position event with a score of 295 out of 300. The scores from her record round: 100 in prone, 97 offhand and 98 kneeling. During the 30-rounds standing portion of the shooting season, she posted the top score in the section with a 286.
Other top scorers in the area during the 3-position portion of the season include Kenmore's Chris Donn (291), Alden's Emily Szymanski (290) and Megan Gabbey (287), Clarence's Matt Kirk (288) and Sarah Armbrust of Holland (286).
Contenders: It's wide open and there are a number of shooters with legitimate shots at making runs at individual titles in the various disciplines Feb. 18. The team titles could also come down to the wire, according to Borkowski. Alden is unbeaten but edged Lancaster by just six points in their head-to-head meeting. Kenmore is also very strong and one can't forget about Clarence, whose top shooters include Kirk, his sister Alexis (around 275 shooting average) and senior Jessica Mogavero (282).
Clarence and the Navy: Should Mogavero earn acceptance into the Naval Academy, she wouldn't be the first alumnus of the Clarence rifle team to head to Annapolis. She'd be the fourth. The most recent Red Devil to head to Navy was Anna May Lawrence two years ago.
What's ahead: Feb. 18 – Section VI Championships at Alden Middle School, 9 a.m.; March 4 – New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association regional competition at West Point.