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Patch's Maggie Ehmann shoots in last season's DODDS-Europe Rifle Championships January 26, 2013 at Baumholder, Germany. Ehmann achieved the highest point totals last season, and placed second overall in the championship. She will be returning for the Panthers this season.
Patch's Maggie Ehmann shoots in last season's DODDS-Europe Rifle Championships January 26, 2013 at Baumholder, Germany. Ehmann achieved the highest point totals last season, and placed second overall in the championship. She will be returning for the Panthers this season. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

After years of second-place finishes and redoubled efforts, Vilseck was finally rewarded for its perseverance last season with a European team marksmanship championship. The win, a nine-point decision over rival Patch, marked the triumphant end of a long and grueling struggle.

On Saturday, as the 2013-14 DODDS-Europe marksmanship season begins with meets at Baumholder and Ansbach, that struggle begins anew.

Vilseck coach Mitchell Pollock allows that the season will be “a rebuilding year” for the reigning champions. Individual European champion Christy Chanin and nearly every other contributor to Vilseck’s long-sought title have moved on, leaving senior Meraleigh Randle to point the way for a new group of Falcons.

But that doesn’t mean the tenured coach is conceding the school’s hard-won title and settling for also-ran status. Randle, a four-year veteran of the program with a robust average overall score of 286, is a fine centerpiece around which to construct a champion. Pollock cites a conference championship and a first or second-place finish at Europeans as his team’s still-lofty goals.

The Falcons will find plenty of competition, both within their region and beyond.

Vilseck headlines an Eastern Conference lineup that includes German schools Ansbach, Bamberg, Hohenfels, and Schweinfurt alongside lone Italian entry Vicenza.

The Western Conference, meanwhile, features the 2012 runner-up Panthers alongside Baumholder, Bitburg, Wiesbaden and Alconbury, the latter the lone United Kingdom program in the 11-team field.

A perennial contender, Patch’s well-entrenched program remains a threat to win every year, and its 2013-14 aspirations are strengthened by the return of junior star Maggie Ehmann. Though Chanin bested her by a single point at Europeans, Ehmann was arguably the most accomplished shooter in Europe last season, totaling the highest cumulative score over the course of the six-meet season and posting the best single-meet score of the year with a 290-point effort last December.

Hohenfels, Ansbach and Baumholder rounded out last year’s top five, and each is well-positioned for another shot at the top spot this season. Hohenfels coach Bob Cheney expects Tigers junior Katherine Gamble to be “the top shooter in Europe,” while four-year standout Kris Martinez and fellow returnees Rachel Holliday and Tristan Maddox give Baumholder the tools for a title.

While its schedule is largely identical to last year’s, with five regular-season meets leading to the European championship Feb. 1, marksmanship is not exempt from DODDS-Europe’s athletic streamlining.

Given the distance from their German opponents, Vicenza and Alconbury have generally shot from their home courses and submitted their scores remotely to the host school of each conference meet. That practice will not only continue this season, but expand. All 11 teams will compete and submit scores remotely on Jan. 18 – a so-called “no-travel weekend” – saving the cost of round-trip bus fare for the seven schools that would have otherwise gathered in Baumholder and Hohenfels.

gregory.broome@gmail.com

Twitter: @broomestripes

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