Loaded for a championship run

UK Rifle team riding on the accuracy and success of its two young guns

By Rodrigo Mejia

A team that goes undefeated in conference play and finishes fourth in the nation can create a buzz on any college campus. Add coach and rookie of the year honors and you might have a valid reason for dancing in the streets.

A reaction of that magnitude is not the case for the UK Rifle team. As sharp as they’ve been shooting in recent years, the team that made a major impact on the national scene is flying below radar in Lexington.

After having one of their most successful seasons in the history of the program, they were voted by league coaches as the preseason favorite to win the Great American Rifle Conference title.

Head coach Harry Mullins speaks highly of his young leaders, sophomores Jennifer Pason and Tom Csenge.

“They have a lot of talent, and they are both very gifted,” Mullins said. “They are very dedicated and have a tremendous drive. I love the way they work.”

Pason and Csenge were two of the top recruits of their class. Pason won Rookie of the Year in their conference and Csenge was the runner-up.

“It was all a learning experience for me. I knew I was going to come back this year even stronger,” Csenge said.

Pason said Csenge helps drive her to do her best.

“Tom and I feed off of each other,” Pason said. “It’s an unspoken friendly competition.”

After last year’s accomplishments, the team seeks to raise the bar even higher. In a team meeting, they set their goals of having an undefeated season and a high team GPA, producing All-Americans and breaking the school record with each gun. To achieve these goals, Csenge said, they just have to work even harder.

“Already this season the team is off to a good start behind the leadership of the dynamic duo,” Csenge said. “The rifle team is on course to accomplishing at least one of the goals this season.”

The team is currently undefeated with wins over Ohio State, Nebraska and Alaska-Fairbanks, the reigning back-to-back national champions.

Pason wants to keep the team moving in the right direction and seeks to lead by example. The R.O.Y. seeks to raise her high scores of 585 and 593 in small-bore and air rifle, the categories for the two guns used in competition.

The perfect score of 600 is a tall order, but to her it’s another shell in the bucket — she has already set the high score in practice.

To prepare for competition, the team does range and physical training. Through range training, the team tries to strengthen their mental focus. Those training sessions consist of hitting a target the size of a pencil eraser from 50 feet away.

Mullins compares the mental focus with that of golf and swimming. In golf, lining up the ball and following the swing through can be compared to lining up your shot and following through the recoil after. In swimming, the timing, breathing, mental vision and intense focus can be compared to that in competing as a marksman.

“Those (golf and swimming) are the only other two sports that you compete as an individual for your team,” Mullins said. “There is also no defense for the sport. It comes with a lot of individual training plus training with the team.”