By Sydney Bucholtz
Over the course of the past semester, the Canisius College Rifle Team has enjoyed immense and significant growth, both in their competitive spheres as well as in their team’s dynamic. From their second place title in the MAC (Mid Atlantic Rifle Conference) Rifle Championships at the United States Coast Guard Academy to their upcoming opportunity to compete in the NRA (National Rifle Association) Intercollegiate National Championships in Fort Benning, Georgia during Spring Break, the team is exploring new avenues of the precision rifle competition and proving triumphant.
Although this year presents marked growth for the Rifle Team, the organization has been in existence for over six decades. Jared Westhoven, sophomore member of the Team and January 2017 Smallbore Shooter of the Month, according to the Mid Atlantic Rifle Conference, described the team’s origins. “The team was created in 1953 and was dropped as an NCAA sport in 2003,” Westhoven said. “The team was then resurrected as a club in 2006 and then upgraded to a club sport in 2016/2017.”
In regards to the specifics of precision rifle, it is a sport which requires intense precision, being that the ultimate goal is to shoot a bullseye target on a paper. Westhoven provided some insight, “The accuracy of the rifle is controlled by the rifling inside the barrel. Rifling is a spiraling engraving inside the barrel that makes the bullet fire in a straight line.”
“There are ten bulls-eyes on a paper,” Westhoven described. “The goal is to score a ten on each one.” As far as scoring goes, a bullseye counts for ten points and each ring outward from the bulls-eye decreases (nine, eight, seven, etc.) depending on how far one shoots from the bulls-eye. In Smallbore, 20 shots are fired from three positions: Prone, Kneeling, and Standing, totaling 600 points possible. In Air, 60 shots are fired from the Standing position, totaling 600 points possible. In team competition, the best four scores are counted with a total possible score of 2400.
Westhoven joined the rifle team last September, with no experience prior, but nonetheless he discovered a niche and fierce talent in the process. “I joined because I have played sports all my life,” Westhoven began. “The Rifle Club was one of the two biggest things that caught my attention when touring Canisius besides Little Theatre. It wasn’t until the first day of practice when the coach asked if I wanted to be on the team that I decided I wanted to join the team.”
Westhoven also found a unique camaraderie within this team. “We all get along greatly. We pass around jokes. We sing to the radio in the van, watch movies at the hotel and in the car. We have great chemistry between us and we don’t have any negativity towards each other.” This sense of friendship and ease has truly shown through in the team’s recent advancements.
“Our team has grown a lot since last year despite the losing record, but when you get better, so do your opponents,” he shared. “This year, we shot several matches, both home and away, and ended up having one win and eight losses in Smallbore Rifle, and one and seven in Air Rifle.”
He also elaborated about the types of rifles used, mentioning that Smallbore is used to describe the .22 caliber ammunition rifle. Smallbore uses gunpowder, whereas Air rifles use compressed air to fire a lead pellet.
Westhoven reflected on the team’s recent journey, saying, “This season especially, we traveled to the United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) and Yale University to compete against them in November. We hosted Penn State here at Canisius in the fall. We competed against the University of Sciences Mixed and Women’s teams in Philadelphia during the first weekend of classes this semester. Three members of the team competed at MIT in Boston in February, and we competed in a couple of postal matches, which involve mailing our targets to a different school instead of shooting ‘shoulder-to-shoulder.’ This season, we placed high enough in our division for Air to compete in the MAC Rifle Championships at USCGA. We ended up taking second place in the Sharpshooter Division of the MAC. ”
“At our matches in Philadelphia and Boston,” Westhoven continued, “we were able to shoot for qualification towards the national competition. As a team at Philadelphia, we would’ve needed a 1800 out of a possible 2400 to qualify as a team for Nationals, and we ended up qualifying with a score of 1982. For the individual scores, a shooter needs a 450 out of 600 in Smallbore and a 495 out of 600 for Air to qualify. I am proud to say that we have four members shooting for individual Smallbore at Nationals [Jared Westhoven, Lauren Reno, Elias Lipka, and Domenic Romanello] and three shooting for individual Air [Westhoven, Reno, and Lipka].
In accompaniment with these victories, the Rifle Team will experience another significant opportunity in the coming week. Said Westhoven, “Over our Spring Break, Lauren Reno, Elias Lipka, Domenic Romanello, Veronica Shabert, and I will be competing at the NRA Intercollegiate National Championships down in Fort Benning, Georgia.”
This major accomplishment for the team arouses additional feelings of aspiration for Westhoven. He said, “The current team consists of five sophomores who have made so much progress since we joined, and none of us are at our peak yet. I hope to see our team place in Nationals, go up a division, and grow to more than just five competitive shooters, all before we graduate.”
Westhoven also articulated his appreciation for the three coaches, Scott Clark, John Beyer, and Alan Payne, who “put all their time and effort into teaching us how to shoot well and constantly get better,” he shared. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where we would be at this moment.”
For anyone with an interest in joining the Rifle Club, visiting the range, or attaining more knowledge, the range is located in the tunnels between the Student Center and Dugan Hall by the commuter lockers. For more information, Coach Clark can also be reached in ITS at email@example.com and Jared Westhoven can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.