The Valley Stream Central High School District varsity rifle team captured its second undefeated season this past week, marking 28 consecutive wins in two years. To further solidify the team members unmatched skills, they competed in and won the county championships on Feb. 11, a win that allowed them to progress on to represent Nassau County Section 8 at the state championships. Leading the team to these victories were captains Malaika Zaidi and Matthew D’Arcio.
“As a captain I couldn’t be more proud of what we as a team have achieved this season,” D’Arcio said. “Earning the privilege to compete in the state championship is proof enough that all our efforts were worth it.”
In addition to Zaidi and D’Arcio, the varsity team is made up of shooters Amisha Mangal, Priya Mangal, Ivan Ymaz and Nicholas Cavaliere. Affectionately referred to as the “cleanup crew” by their teammates, Mangal and Cavaliere competed in the final relay of the county championships bringing in scores that pushed their combined team score to 751.
Mangal, a ninth-grader at Central High School, shot the highest score at the county championship with a 194 out of 200, a score that many athletes rarely achieve over the course of their entire high school careers.
“She is truly a remarkable athlete,” coach Heather Zawislak said, “and I cannot wait to see how she improves as a markswoman, although there isn’t much more room to improve with a score like that.”
Zawislak,is an 18-year veteran of the sport, and took over coaching the team in 2018. “I am honored to be working with and coaching these athletes, they really live up to the team’s tagline ‘the home of champions’ and are constantly rising to the occasion to prove that,” she said. “I don’t think people understand how much athleticism and focus goes into this sport.”
She explained that many of the kids that try out start off thinking it as an easy sport or video game, but after a few minutes realize just how competitive marksmanship can be, involving hundreds of hour of practice as well as discipline, focus and dedication.
The next step for the team will be the state championship at West Point Military Academy in New York. The team’s championship win this year is even more meaningful because 2020 will be the final state championship for the sport due to a lack of teams in the state.
“I asked them at the beginning of the season to do their best to make sure they go to the final state championship, and they did just that, I couldn’t be more proud.” Zawislak said. Despite the excitement, there were mixed feelings among the team members. “It was a bittersweet moment for me when I realized we had won, considering it would be my last time competing at counties and the team’s last,” Zaidi said, adding that her experience captaining the team will stick with her for many years to come.
Compiled by Peter Belfiore