Kaiserslautern's Katelynn McEntee reloads after taking a shot during a marksmanship competition on Jan. 6, 2024, at Kaiserslautern High School in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

Kaiserslautern's Katelynn McEntee reloads after taking a shot during a marksmanship competition on Jan. 6, 2024, at Kaiserslautern High School in Kaiserslautern, Germany. (Matt Wagner/Stars and Stripes)

You can’t fault the Kaiserslautern marksmanship team for being extra cautious heading into Saturday’s DODEA European marksmanship championships at Ansbach High School.

Almost exactly one year to the day, the Raiders entered the finals as Western Conference championships and were looking to give the Cougars and longtime powerhouse Stuttgart a run for their money.

Once they started shooting, however, Kaiserslautern noticed it had selected a bad batch of pellets. The Raiders still managed to take third but were 32 points behind champion Ansbach.

It was a tough but necessary lesson to learn.

“This year, we’re being a little more careful,” Kaiserslautern coach Bill Conley said. “We’re being more methodical in our approach to Europeans and just throughout the entire season, we’re more thoroughly checking our equipment. We’re making sure our Is are dotted and our Ts are crossed.”

Kaiserslautern ran away with both the Western Conference and overall regular-season titles, totaling 5,713 points. Ansbach took the Eastern Conference crown and finished runner-up during the regular season with 5,641 points.

A total of six teams qualified for the tournament. Stuttgart, Vilseck, Wiesbaden and Alconbury also will compete.

The Raiders’ lowest score was 1,139, posted during the opening contest of the season. They are the only ones to have eclipsed 1,140 in a competition this campaign.

Being an underdog isn’t new to the Cougars, though. Prior to last season, they also hadn’t managed to get over the hump, and while losing many members of the squad, they bring back last year’s individual European champion, senior Alexander Pohlman, whose 290-performance last weekend tied for the fourth-highest point total in Europe this season.

“In Ansbach, you kind of always feel like an underdog,” Ansbach coach Christopher Buchanan said. “This is the one sport in DODEA that everybody is in Division I [in terms of team competition], no matter what size the school is. Even if you’re a small school, you got to rise up and take on those bigger schools.”

Kaiserslautern has three candidates for that individual crown in sophomore Katelynn McEntee, who has tied for the highest and fourth-highest performances during the regular season with a 292 (Jan. 13) and a 290 (Jan. 6); freshman Amanda Garcia, who Conley said has grown throughout the season, was the team’s top performer in the final regular-season contest; and junior Noah Truschinski, whom Conley praised for his steadiness.

Others expected to be in the mix for the individual title are Vilseck junior Emily Dahle, who tied McEntee for best regular-season total with 292 on Dec. 9; Wiesbaden’s Cydnee Lassiter, who posted the third-highest mark of 291 on Dec. 9; and Alconbury senior Rachana Dacumos, who consistently has shot in the upper 280s.

The shooters will be tested even more than during the regular season, as they will be firing 20 times in the three positions – kneeling, prone and standing – instead of 10.

Conley said endurance will be key, especially as coaches must make decisions on the final lineups.

“That can take a real toll on their bodies,” he said of the extra shots at Euros. “Just to see what kind of stamina they have, what kind of discipline they have as they’re getting more and more tired, I think it’s going to be a gametime decision, quite frankly, who’s going to be our fifth shooter.”

Buchanan said the pressure will be squarely on the Raiders not to faulter at the final hurdle. It’s something the hosts know well after completing the feat last year.

Conley, meanwhile, said Kaiserslautern remembers the struggles of last year’s final. And the Raiders will have to earn that trophy Saturday.

“If we can keep the nerves under control, if we can just approach the day as another tournament, don’t add any extra pressure about the elusive title of Euros … we’re not really fixated on that, it’s just let’s go out and shoot our best and the chips are going to fall where they may,” Conley said.

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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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