Returning 2017 NYSPHSAA individual champions
Three-position kneeling – Kiersten Mucha (Lancaster).
2017 Section VI team champions
30-shot standing – Alden, Three-position – Kenmore.
Returning 2017 Section VI individual champions
30-shot standing – Mucha (Lancaster); Three-position aggregate – Sarah Golas (Alden); Three-position standing – Golas (Alden); Three-position kneeling – Golas (Alden).
Section VI Championships, Feb. 17 at Alden Middle School; NYSPHSAA Championships, March 3 at West Point.
In just its second year, Pioneer’s rifle program is enjoying a breakthrough season. The Panthers finished with 5-2 records in both events (30-shot standing and three-position) and had four of the top 10 shooters in the final 30-shot standing individual rankings. None finished in the top 10 in 2017.
Coach Frank Miga wishes he could take credit for the Panthers’ rapid growth, but he was quick to express his appreciation for his coaching peers and recently retired AD James Graczyk, who spearheaded the addition of the program.
“If you’re wondering why they’ve improved so much, it’s because we’ve had an amazing amount of help,” Miga said. “Even though everyone’s competitive, like myself, they’re all willing to help promote the sport and make Section VI rifle competitive at the state tournament. It really is thanks to a lot of help and experience from coaches and players on other teams. They’re really receptive to helping each other out.”
The average scores of all four top-10 Pioneer shooters in the final 30-shot standings are within 1.5 of each other.
First-year senior Linxin Zha is seventh with a 273.5 average. She moved to the area from China in December.
“She struggles with English so I was interested to see how she progressed,” Miga said. “She’s been a nice surprise to say the least. She’s a very good visual learner. She watches the other competitors and just took on some great technique, picks up things and tries what they’re doing.”
Nos. 8-10 are all in their second years with the program. Junior Arran Schmit, a team captain for a second season, was the top shooter on the team last year and is strong in all three positions. Freshman Dylan Romance and sophomore Trevor Harrington round out the standouts.
“A lot of times, a lot of my shooters are at the same level,” Miga said. “Anyone can shoot a high score, their averages are very comparable. Sometimes the better shooters are those that never picked up a rifle before.”
Around Western New York
Clarence and Alden each have two shooters who finished in the the top six of the final 30-shot standings.
The Red Devils feature siblings Matt and Alexis Kirk, who have alternated for the top score on the team in every match this season. Matt, who’s third with a 30-shot average of 277.33, competed at states as a Section VI all-star last year. He matched the ECIC record in the three-position event with a score of 295, which Lancaster’s Kiersten Mucha set last season. His younger sister, Alexis, is sixth with an average of 273.75.
Alden won all of its air rifle matches last season with a perfect 12-0 record and captured the team title in the 30-shot competition. Despite being hit hard with losses due to graduation, a pair of Bulldogs still cracked the top five in the 30-shot.
Sarah Golas sits fourth with an average of 274.83. She won individual sectional titles last year in the three-position aggregate, three-position standing and three-position kneeling. Teammate Emily Szymanski is fifth with 274.33.
Growing the sport
Section VI has added a pair of schools and there are now six sections competing at the state level since scholastic competitions have switched from .22 caliber ammunition to air rifles. Last year’s NYSPHSAA Championships was the first year that shooters exclusively used air rifles.
Locally, Holland joined the section two years ago and Pioneer joined last season. Section VI chair and former longtime Alden coach Paul Borkowski said a couple of other schools have inquired about joining in the future.