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Shooters target marksmanship title

Patch sophomore Maggie Ehmann finished second behind teammate Erika Hoffman at a marksmanship match in Heidelberg, Germany on Dec. 15. The DODDS-Europe marksmanship championship takes place in Baumholder on Saturday. Mark Patton/Stars and Stripes

Perhaps more than any other sport, the numbers accumulated over the five weekends of the marksmanship regular season are a reliable predictor of what will happen Saturday when Baumholder hosts the 2012-13 DODDS-Europe championship meet.

“What you do throughout the season, you’ll probably do about the same at Europeans,” Heidelberg coach Andrew King said after his team’s Jan. 19 regular-season finale.

Variables like foul trouble can produce a basketball upset on any given night. Injuries and weather routinely swing football games. An ace pitcher can leave a competitive baseball or softball team all but helpless.

Such factors don’t apply on the range.

Shooters spend the winter cultivating their scores from standing, kneeling and prone positions and applying meticulous adjustments as they inch their way closer to the bullseye.

“Anything we can do to improve, we do it,” said junior Kris Martinez, the high overall scorer for the host Bucs.

The process Martinez refers to is subtle and tedious, and progress measured in tiny increments. Competitors are unlikely to experience sudden technical epiphanies Saturday that yield major deviations from their established mean.

If anything, shooters are more likely to falter. And in that sense, marksmanship is no different from any other sport; it’s performed by humans, and therefore vulnerable to human frailties like anxiety and self-doubt.

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“Every shot counts now,” Baumholder coach B.J. Walker said. “These are the best kids in Europe shooting against each other. It’s a lot of pressure on these kids, because one bad shot could determine if they win or lose.”

Martinez has felt that pressure. Recent performances have the developing Baumholder program hoping for a strong home-base showing after a happy-to-be-there appearance in last year’s event.

“Actually I feel a little more nervous (than last year),” Martinez said. “This year we’re doing so good, it’s a lot more pressure to try to place well.

“If you’re not focused, it can really change how you shoot.”

Though the pressure of the championship round elevates shooters’ stress levels, Saturday’s best shooters have become masters of managing stress and avoiding distraction. Once again, that leaves the simple math of a season’s worth of meets.

So what do the numbers suggest?

Expect Saturday’s team championship go to one of two teams. Patch, the defending champion and owner of three of the last four European titles, has dominated the western conference. Vilseck has been nearly as dominant in the east.

Host Baumholder, 2010-11 champion Hohenfels and dark-horse Ansbach would need major missteps from Patch and Vilseck to move into championship range.

Those teams’ leaders - Patch’s Maggie Ehmann and Vilseck’s Christy Chanin - are favorites for individual honors. Ehmann’s top score is a remarkable 290, achieved Dec. 8. Chanin is on the cusp, having shot a 288 in the Jan. 19 regular-season finale.

But it’s depth that truly separates Patch and Vilseck from the field. Patch’s Caelyn Miller, Ben Ferguson, Erika Hoffman and Regine Labarda and Vilseck’s Malia Carson, Shelby Gronhoff, Meraleigh Randle and Carolyn Pippin have all proven capable of top-echelon scores. Only Baumholder’s Martinez prevents the two schools from sweeping a list of the season’s 10 best individual performances.

It’s safe to expect similar scores Saturday as the shooters look to subdue their only direct opponent - themselves.

“It’s kind of a weird sport, because you can’t really try harder or push yourself harder,” Vilseck’s Carson explained. “If you’re trying too hard, it actually makes you shoot worse. That’s why rifle is so different from any other sport.”

broomeg@stripes.osd.mil

Twitter: @broomestripes

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