Sunday, January 27, 2002

XU's unsung stars shoot to thrill




By Shannon Russell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Xavier University junior Thrine Kane wouldn't call herself a typical athlete. She doesn't hit a mean curveball, easily sink a 3-point shot or run a mile in record time.

        But she has no problem shooting a 40-foot target with a .22-caliber rifle.

        “When I meet new people and tell them I shoot, I always get strange looks,” Kane said. “I always say that I tried baseball and I couldn't hit, I tried soccer and I couldn't run, and then I found I could just stand still.”

        Kane is one of six Musketeers on the university rifle team. The program, ranked third in the nation in the Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association poll, boasts a 6-0 record, and its athletes consistently have shattered school and personal shooting records since the season began in October.

        Head coach Alan Joseph said team members Kane, Sivan Barazani, Joseph Fitzgibbon, Hannah Kerr, Scott Kerr and Danielle Langfield look like normal college students. Picking them out of a crowd would be difficult, because the sport has no specific height, weight or gender requirements.

        What they do share is intense mental focus, a trait that carries over from the shooting range to the classroom. Joseph said his crew has posted Xavier's highest athletic-team GPA for the past three semesters. Most of his athletes are well-spoken, which is how word of the program's success spreads. The program has been at Xavier since 1937, but every season Joseph & Co. find themselves explaining rifle.

        “I don't mind, because there's not a lot of publicity with it,” Joseph said. “Twenty-five or 30 years ago, there used to be a lot of junior rifle clubs and programs affiliated with high schools. There are very few of those clubs in this area now.”

        The sport consists of two disciplines, smallbore and air rifle. Smallbore is broken down into three divisions: prone, standing and kneeling. With a .22-caliber rifle, a competitor takes 40 shots in each division at a distance of 50 feet. The bull's-eyes are the size of silver dollars.

        In air rifle, athletes fire 40 times at targets 33 feet away. They shoot compressed air with pellet rifles.

        Matches are held indoors and generally take 5 1/2 hours. There's not much talking as Xavier students take their marks, but most of the time, there aren't spectators, anyway.

        “You really have to concentrate,” Joseph said. “It's like shooting 160 free throws in a row.”

        Scores are determined by a point system. The highest an athlete can get on a shot is 10 points; the lowest, zero. A perfect smallbore score is 1,200, a perfect air rifle score is 400, and a perfect individual combined score is 1,600. At matches, four shooters in each discipline form a team.

        Freshman Hannah Kerr shocked herself and her team Jan. 20 when she snapped two 8-year-old Xavier records against Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Kerr shot a 1,187 in smallbore and a combined score of 1,579 in the Musketeers' 6,177-5,996 win.

        She tied the school record in smallbore standing with a 393, set personal bests in prone (398) and air rifle (392) and matched a personal best in kneeling (396).

        “I don't know how I did it,” Kerr said. “I'm not sure if it's because I'm now practicing every day or if it's the team aspect and the advice I get. I've been shooting here better than any place in my life.”

        Kerr's older brother, Scott, began the family tradition by joining the Xavier team three years ago. Hannah said the old sibling rivalry has been replaced by teamwork as Hannah, her brother and the other four Musketeers have bonded into a close-knit group.

        Langfield, a senior captain, said one of the best parts of the rifle experience is the quality of the Xavier team.

        “I've never really been on a team like this,” Langfield said. “I love it that we're small enough to be close to each other. As an only child, I feel like these are my siblings. And I'm so proud of how our scores have gone up steadily all season. We've tied or broken school records in all but one match this year.”

        The Musketeers' sights are set on the end-of-season Great America Rifle Conference championships and the ensuing NCAA Tournament.

        Langfield said confidence levels are up, especially after the team upset No. 2 University of Kentucky 6,227-6,207 on Jan. 19.

        That doesn't mean Kane, an All-American and a former member of the U.S. women's smallbore rifle team at the Sydney Olympics, expects accolades from classmates. She's accustomed to the surprised reactions.

        “There are still a lot of people on campus who don't know we have a rifle team,” she said. “I think it's a shame, because it's one of the strongest teams we have.”

        OTHERS

        University of Dayton soccer player Megan McKnight (Badin) was named honorable-mention All-America by Soccer Buzz Magazine. The senior finished the season with seven goals and a school-record 13 assists. Teammate Shannon Kuhl (Badin) led the team in scoring with nine goals.

        Dennison University soccer forward Megan Trau (Lakota East) was named first-team All-North Coast Athletic Conference, first-team Great Lakes Region and first-team All-Ohio. She scored 14 goals and had two assists for the team (14-5).

        Steve Bain (Elder), a senior forward on the Mt. St. Joseph men's basketball team, was named Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference player of the week. He scored 40 points and was 20-of-35 from the free throw line in the Lions' wins over Manchester and Anderson.

       



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