Shooters sight in during their prep time for the kneeling event of the marksmanship competition at the JROTC air rifle range inside Vilseck High School, Vilseck, Germany, on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022.

Shooters sight in during their prep time for the kneeling event of the marksmanship competition at the JROTC air rifle range inside Vilseck High School, Vilseck, Germany, on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. (Michael Slavin/Stars and Stripes)

Christopher Buchanan planned on Tuesday to take his Ansbach marksmanship team to the gymnasium to show off the school’s championship banners.

Normally, this tactic is meant to show off the program’s history as a motivational tool.

The Cougars coach, however, wanted his shooters to notice what’s missing.

“There’s not even a marksmanship banner in there,” he said. “So, I think to our school, the possibility of earning a banner for marksmanship and having that put up in our gym would be a huge accomplishment.”

The Cougars might have their best shot to accomplish that during Saturday’s DODEA European marksmanship championship at Wiesbaden High School. Ansbach enters the tournament with the top total score in the regular season and won the Eastern Conference.

Ansbach will square off with five other programs that qualified – Stuttgart, Alconbury, Kaiserslautern, Vilseck and Wiesbaden. Those six teams also qualified for the JROTC Service Championship at Camp Perry, Ohio, on Feb. 9-11, with Ansbach sending two teams to that competition.

Although the Cougars posted the top total over five meets, they know of the big challenge ahead in nine-time defending champion Stuttgart, to which Ansbach lost by 18 points in last year’s final. The Panthers have won 12 of the last 14 titles.

Stuttgart finished second during the regular season, and while the Cougars have bested the Panthers four of five times, the largest margin of victory was 17 points. The Jan. 21 contest was decided by just five.

Stuttgart has had some turnover, with Robert Randall taking over for long-time coach Raul Pinon. In his first year in the DODEA system, Randall said he appreciates Ansbach’s performances this year.

“Honestly, I see it as healthy competition,” he said. “I see it as giving motivation to the shooters of both schools to give their best. … I believe that this year has allowed both schools to push further than they thought they could go.”

Both squads have shooters in the running for top spot.

For Ansbach, Buchanan pointed to freshman Kalea Russell and senior captain Collin Robertson as his team’s top two competitors. Russell has scored the most points as multiple meets, while Robertson is the JROTC battalion commander and the first marksman Buchanan has coached for the full four years.

Stuttgart, meanwhile, turns to Leila Yberra, who consistently hits the high 280s out of 300 available. Randall mentioned how Yberra plans to pursue marksmanship in college.

The Panthers also have Rylee Willett, whom Randall said has shown great improvement this season, and Nole Smith, who Randall said has taken a mentor role for the younger shooters.

“The team’s strength would be the teamwork between the students,” Randall said. “They’re really stepping in and working with each other, being able to see areas where they may be able to improve and taking constructive criticism without having hardship with that.”

Also in the mix will be Kaiserslautern, which finished the regular season as the Western Conference champion. Coach William Conley’s squad is 12-shooters deep, with only three seniors.

Conley praised that depth by pointing to an earlier contest when the first and second teams tied, with the first team winning on a tiebreaker. He said he had a tough decision choosing who will go to Saturday’s championship meet, although freshman Katelynn McEntee and sophomores Noah Truschinski and Lana Le are likely to make the squad.

“They set a goal, they want to be Europe champions ….,” Conley said. “So they all know what the big prize looks like and they’re taking every day very seriously in order to bring it home.”

The pressure will be on all marksmen Saturday, but Buchanan said he will try and get his Cougars to focus on themselves and not worry about the result on the range.

“Something I’m always telling them is, ‘Don’t worry about the big picture and what your target full score is,’” Buchanan said. “I tell them that’s my job. They just need to focus on how do they shoot the next 10.”

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Matt is a sports reporter for Stars and Stripes based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. A son of two career Air Force aircraft maintenance technicians, he previously worked at newspapers in northeast Ohio for 10 years and is a graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

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