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Luella students named state air riflery champs

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Members of the Luella High School Air Rifle Team are the state's best in precision air riflery.

Luella won first place at the 2010 Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Air Riflery Championship, held Saturday at the Pool International Shooting Range in Columbus.

"It feels awesome," said Jacob Brown, a senior precision shooter on the team. "It takes more dedication than any other sport out there, but the rewards are well worth it. This being my last year, I couldn't have asked for a better ending."

The team came away as the winner, after competing among 14 of the state's top air riflery teams.

Out of a possible 1,200 points, Luella outshot Northside High School of Columbus by a score of 1,151 to 1,148. East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg edged out Henry County's Union Grove High School for third place, with a score of 1,142 to 1,141.

"We're just so happy to win," said Luella Team Coach Chief Tim Welch. "Those guys have competed in state and national matches over the last three years, and I was really happy for the team's success."

Welch said the veteran precision air rifle team -- which includes Wesley White, Patrick Nelms, Jacob Brown, and Jackson Bailey -- may be the first team in Luella's seven-year history to win a team state championship. The air rifle team was the only Luella team listed Thursday as a GHSA Championship Team on the association's web site.

"I'm very excited," said Bailey, a fourth-year shooter on the Luella team. "Our team, we practice three days a week, about two hours a day. It feels good to finish the season this way."

The team went undefeated this season in high school air riflery competition, and walked away with the title from the two-time returning team champions at Union Grove High School.

Union Grove placed a close fourth overall in team competition. However, the team, composed of Nolan Ripple, Alex Landers, Alexander Hughes and Steven Frazier, had two of its precision shooters earn top placements in the state individual championship. Hughes, a first-year precision shooter with Union Grove, placed second. He placed just ahead of teammate and 2009 state individual champion, Steven Frazier. Frazier, a fourth-year shooter on the Union Grove team, was unseated by Northside's Arielle Mouhot.

"Both Hughes and Mouhot tied with a qualifying score of 291, but Mouhot outscored Hughes in a very exciting final," said Union Grove Team Coach Senior Chief Warren Varnadoe. "The qualifying for the finals match was close with the top score of 291 of Mouhot and Hughes, followed by three shooters with a 290, and the remaining three with a 289 score. Second through fifth place was separated by just nine-tenths of a point after the finals was concluded."

Hughes said he was relaxed during the competition.

"Honestly, going in, I was not nervous," Hughes said. "I had to focus, so there really wasn't any room to be nervous. It's all about the mindset and being mentally prepared to go into the match. It's all about staying focused."

The Union Grove sophomore commended the performance of Mouhot, a senior on the Northside team.

"She was definitely having one of her best matches, and I think she earned it," Hughes said.

Hughes said he and some of his teammates struggled at the beginning of the high school air riflery season to find their shots.

"We weren't really familiar with what we were doing, but I feel that we've come a long way," Hughes added. "I had a slow year starting off, but I believe I finished up well, and I don't think we could have done what we did without our coach."

Varnadoe believes his young team was served well by competing in this season's intense shooting competitions. He said he expects the team will improve by October, when the next air rifle season begins.

"My congratulations to Luella," Varnadoe said. "They were all very consistent and held their composure during the match, no small feat at the Georgia State Championship."