Ansbach marksmanship team captain Alexander Pohlman sights in during the test shots for the prone position before the scoring period commences during the DODEA-Europe marksmanship competition at Vilseck High School on Dec. 9, 2023.

Ansbach marksmanship team captain Alexander Pohlman sights in during the test shots for the prone position before the scoring period commences during the DODEA-Europe marksmanship competition at Vilseck High School on Dec. 9, 2023. (Michael Slavin/Stars and Stripes)

Ansbach marksmanship coach Christopher Buchanan noticed something special when Alexander Pohlman joined the team his freshman year.

Sure, it’s easy to say that now, as Stars and Stripes’ 2023-2024 marksmanship Athlete of the Year has won back-to-back DODEA European individual titles. But the Cougar coach said the close shot groups Pohlman had during his first times on the range showed great promise.

“His determination and his hard work every day, you’re like, ‘Oh, this guy is going to be good if he sticks with it,’” Buchanan said. “Here we are four years later, and he’s great.”

That description isn’t an exaggeration.

Pohlman has played a key role in the Ansbach program’s surge over the past couple of seasons, including its first team title in 2022-2023 and a runner-up finish in 2023-2024 to another first-time champion Kaiserslautern. The Cougars missed out on defending that 2022-2023 crown by nine points, 2,270-2,261.

Pohlman, meanwhile, accomplished the repeat by two points, 578-576 over Raider sharpshooter Katelynn McEntee. The senior put together the performance at home and didn’t have to win by bull’s-eye tiebreaker like he did over former teammate Kalea Russell. (If Pohlman and McEntee had tied on points, he still would have won 35-25.)

The senior ace averaged 286.2 points over five regular-season contests. His best positions were kneeling and prone, in which he scored 98 and 98.6 points per contest, respectively, and he posted a 90.2 average in the standing position.

Pohlman also totaled 116 bull’s-eyes.

Not bad for a guy who hadn’t known about marksmanship prior to moving to Ansbach the summer before his freshman year.

“It could be fun, it could be not,” Pohlman said of joining the team upon his arrival in Ansbach. “I was a manager for a little bit, and I was like, ‘Hey, this looks super fun.’ So, I ended up joining the full team, and it’s been fun for the last four years.”

It wasn’t fun all the time, though.

Coming out of the winter break this campaign, Pohlman suffered a dip in form that was inexplicable to him at the time. He finished sixth on Jan. 6 at Vilseck with a 280 – not a score to scoff at but one below his standard. His kneeling (95) and prone (98) scores weren’t too far off, but his standing shooting was off at 87, as well as his bull’s-eye number at 11.

Later, it became clear why he struggled. Pohlman experienced a growth spurt, meaning his uniform and other equipment were too small. Combined with using a heavier rifle to free up the lighter Feinwerkbau 800 for his younger teammates, Pohlman needed to adjust to return to his usual self.

“He had to overcome it,” Buchanan said. “And that’s the making of a good athlete: They’re faced with a challenge, and they can come up with a solution, fix it, still believe in themselves and come out on top.”

Following the downturn, Pohlman bounced back in a major way. And he’s carried over that form outside the DODEA season.

The senior and his Cougar teammates returned to Camp Perry, Ohio, on Feb. 15-17 for the JROTC Service Championships. The Cougars won the Army competition at Camp Perry while finishing fourth across the nation with a 4,596-point performance. The Cougars finished 50 points behind winner Fountain Fort Carson High School, Colo.

As an individual, Pohlman took runner-up at Camp Perry after Piper Wentland of Concordia Lutheran High School in Indiana, 1,287.7-1,269.6, while finishing eighth in the Army nationwide. This came almost a year after finishing fourth at the same stage to shooters who have trained at Junior Olympic camps and competed at Junior Olympic levels.

These performances have raised Pohlman’s expectations.

“Ending up in second behind someone who was there last year, still that Olympic-trained athlete, it was pretty cool,” he said. “I hold myself to that high standard now.”

Pohlman and the Cougars still get to shoot at the All-Service Championships once again at Camp Perry on March 21-23. For Pohlman, it’s a chance to get some looks from college coaches, after talking to the West Point mentor last year.

Shooting in college is something he wants to do, but he realizes it’s late in the game. Still, he said he believes he can be an asset to any program.

“I wasn’t aware of a lot of these things until this year,” Pohlman said. “I’m kind of behind everybody else. I feel like my skill can make up for all that and still end up on a team with some certainty.”

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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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