As the self-proclaimed underdogs during the 2017 Junior Reserves Officer Training Corps (JROTC) National Air Rifle Championship, the fact that the Turlock High School air rifle team was named the best overall team in the nation surprised everyone — including themselves.
“We went to the Range Officer and asked if this was real,” laughed senior Adriana Valencia.
“We didn’t even realize until one of the other coaches came up to us and said that we won. We were the underdogs,” added Coach Major Kelly Cross. “The size of our school and the size of our shooting program is infinitesimally small compared to others. I think we just caught everybody completely off guard.”
The Turlock High School team included Valencia, who served as Captain, senior Nicolas McKeon, senior Dorian Macintosh and sophomore Ramandeep Singh.
This year’s Nationals pitted 220 junior sporter and precision class air rifle marksmen in Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps JROTC programs at the South Civilian Marksmanship Program Competition Center in Anniston, Alabama from March 23-25.
Before the JROTC National Championship, students had to compete in the JROTC Postal Competition in October in order to qualify for the JROTC Regional Service Championships in February.
“It starts off with about 7,800 shooters and 1,800 teams and the top seven teams from each JROTC branch of service end up going to Nationals,” said Cross.
After regionals, they moved on to the JROTC National Championship, which is a two-day competition that follows the same format as the Postal and Regional matches, where competitors fire in three positions: prone, standing and kneeling.
By the end of day one, it looked dim for Turlock High cadets as they were 25 shots behind the top team and down in seventh place.
“The first record day for me personally was extremely successful, and I’m sure it was for the rest of the team,” said McKeon. “It’s hard — we’re at a national competition and the very first day you want to start out strong, so that’s one of the anxieties we had to overcome. We didn’t do as well as we wanted to on the first day.”
The second day was a completely different story, however, as the team rallied on to overcome the deficit and win by five points over the second place team. Not only were they named the best overall team during the national competition, but they were the first team from California to do so.
“The second day we came and took it,” said McKeon. “We came on to the shooting range and we said we’re here to show them what we’ve got.”
At the end of each day of Nationals, the top 8 competitors also got to compete in a 10-shot final in hopes of earning a gold, silver or bronze medal. On the second day, three of the top 8 competitors came from Turlock High — McKeon, Macintosh and Valencia. McKeon secured fourth place in individuals, Macintosh earned 11th place, and Valencia won 10th place.