Even with a less experienced roster, the Valley Stream Central High School District rifle team found a way to bring home another state title and set a few records along the way.
For the seventh consecutive season, the team captured the state championship in the air rifle competition at West Point on March 2. However, for the first time in seven years it missed out on the .22 smallbore title after failing to qualify at the county level.
Members of the team say they are quite thrilled to bring home a championship, especially with several newcomers to the varsity squad. Central High School senior Danielle Cuomo and South High senior Sean Wraith were the only returning shooters from last year. New to the team were South senior Melissa Schmidt, North junior Kristen Mantel and Central junior Jurell Wilson, an alternate.
At the state championship, Valley Stream broke the team air rifle record with 1,138 points out of 1,200, topping the previous high mark by two points. It also broke its own Section 8 record by 14 points. During the season, the team set a new Nassau County high score of 763 out of 800 during a match.
Cuomo, a fourth year varsity starter and the team’s senior captain, tied the individual state record in air rifle with 291 points. “I was really proud of myself because I worked really hard,” she said. “It came down to the last shot.”
In the fall, Cuomo will be attending the United States Military Academy at West Point and will shoot for the rifle team there. She said she is looking forward to the increased level of competition and further honing her skills.
Wraith, who will likely attend SUNY Geneseo, says his rifle days are now over but valued his time on the high school team. “I ranked third in the state in air rifle and we won as a team,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end it.”
A state championship in .22 smallbore just wasn’t in the cards, Wraith said. The team could not fend off a strong Massapequa team in the county championships in Glen Cove in early February.
Cuomo and Wraith did get to join an all-stars team with the shooters from Massapequa in .22 smallbore at the state championship, however.
Mantel, a newcomer to the varsity team, said he hopes to continue to improve her skills and lead the team to another state title in 2014, if she gets the chance. The rifle team is slated to be cut next year under the district’s proposed budget.
Wilson, although he wasn’t one of the team’s primary shooters, said he did enjoy his experience at the state championship. “I was nervous the whole time going through,” he said, adding that his teammates told him to treat the event like just another day of practice at the range.
The team prepares in the rifle range in the basement of Memorial Junior High School.
Coach Blake McCauley said the team exceeded his expectations this year. He noted that making the transition from junior varsity to varsity is significant, and the shooters who did that, Mantel, Schmidt and Wilson, did so seamlessly.
He said the leadership of Cuomo and Sean really made a difference in helping the new members get acclimated to the team. “They really did set the example,” he said.
McCauley noted that Valley Stream holds many state and county records, and that the program is well respected among other schools. He said his shooters are good students who display high moral character.
“I’m proud of them as always,” he said. “Any state title is a great season.”