Rifle requires a steady hand and even steadier mind. It’s a very different sport than anything typically found on a college campus. It doesn’t take brute force or a cunning mind, it only takes a focused one.
Athletes use air rifles and/or smallbore caliber rifles — smallbore refers to a caliber of .22 or .223 inches in diameter — and are tasked with hitting a target an average of 10 meters away for air, and 50 meters for smallbore. The target is no bigger than your average dinner plate.
Firearms used in the NCAA rifle competition are heavily regulated down to weight and what parts can be replaced on the rifle. Rifles used in competition shooting must possess a length of 850 mm — or the equivalent to just over 33 inches — from front sights to the end of the muzzle. Smallbore rifles are also restricted to a weight of eight kilograms. However, they are allowed to change certain parts such as the barrel or the stock.
Competitors are also forced to wear uniforms designed to heighten the shooter’s abilities — this to help steady the shooter’s body. The uniform is a heavy jacket worn over the team’s normal uniform, which is typically just a polo shirt.
Challengers go through a rigorous training regimen, this according to Nevada head rifle coach Fred Harvey. His team practices four to five times a week.
“We’re shooting for one another, we know what we can do.” Harvey said.
Harvey has been the head coach of Nevada rifle since the 1995 season. A former NCAA Rifle Coach of the Year in 2003, Harvey is highly respected among his athletes. Meghan Morrill, alumnus of the Nevada rifle team, has referred to him as a “true player’s coach.”
When recruiting, he isn’t just looking for rifle ability though. In fact, that’s one of the last things he looks for. Harvey says he first looks at a recruits ACT scores, requiring a minimum 26 ACT and a 3.5 GPA. According to Harvey, if an athlete does well in the classroom, their performance will reflect that.
Harvey also said that even though the rifle community is small, he gets at least 60 applications a year from recruits. For the 2018 season, Harvey only brought on seven new athletes — six of whom are freshman.
Harvey is accurate when he says the sport is built of a small community in the NCAA. There are only 23 division one schools who practice the sport, and 29 in the nation as a whole. Because of this, the sport is not widely known. The possibilities for rifle to expand, on not only the University of Nevada, Reno campus, but on the national level, interests Harvey.
“I think it would be good if it were to expand. I think that would be good for the country.” Harvey said.
If the sport is to expand, it has an advantage compared to other collegiate sports. Rifle is one of only two coed NCAA sports — the other being fencing — in the country, and the only one at Nevada.
“I’ve had all-male teams, and I’ve had all female-teams and it seems to me, my best teams are coed,” Harvey said
In Harvey’s opinion, being a coed can only elevate his team a higher standard. The Wolf Pack rifle team is currently made up of a roster of 10 women, 7 men and are ranked 15th in the nation. In one of their latest competitions against UTEP on Saturday, Oct. 20, senior Mitchel Van Patten and sophomore Nadine Ahola, took first and second.
Ryan Freeberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.