GHSA Rifle Championships
Young East Coweta lineup prepares for state event
by Chris Goltermann
Peter Merrill wasn’t sure what to expect in his first venture coaching high school riflery. Used to seeing the recoil of guns as a retired Marine, watching the methodical and almost motionless techniques used in precision air rifle at East Coweta provided quite a unique perspective.
“This sport is mental. That’s separates everybody,” he said.
And right now a East Coweta team has kept its head more often than not while on their way to this month’s Georgia High School Association State Championships despite one of its younger lineups in recent history.
Led by three sophomores and a freshman, ECHS was able to return to the championships in Fort Benning as a team after a rare miss in 2012, despite a strong final varsity season by Kelsey Moral, now a freshman shooter for Columbus State.
“It’s a pretty young team,” Merrill added.
After making Columbus an annual destination during former coach John Skinner’s successful tenure as coach — which included the school’s only GHSA state title among athletics — East Coweta’s program seems primed on making another successful run at a potential championship in the near future.
“There’s been a lot of teamwork involved,” said Merrill, who has held two-hour practice sessions at the school during spring break to stay sharp for the upcoming finals. “This group has been really dedicated. They’ve worked hard for this.”
The team’s recent success has included a third-place finish in Area 5 and consecutive playoff victories over North Cobb (1,128-1,085) and Riverside Military Academy (1,151-1,097), the latter of which in last week’s state semifinals. The score against RMA tied for second-highest in the semifinal round to Columbus’ 1,156.
East Coweta joins three finalists from Area 5 including league champion Union Grove and runner-up Monroe Area, which earned its way through one of two wild cards after losing in the semifinals.
In between, the team placed sixth nationally at the NJROTC Championships in Anniston, Ala., while also finishing second among Marine JROTC teams.
Sophomore Glen Lauzon led the team with a 1,161 (out of a possible 1,200) in the two-day event, placing 29th individually after posting a 586 out of potential 600 on the final day of competition. He improving his score in the standing position by six points and the kneeling position by five from the opening 3x20 round.
Fellow sophomore Ashton Collier finished with a score of 1,145 in 51st place and sister Destiny, a freshman, added a 1,144 that included a perfect 200 during the opening day in the standing position while placing 57th overall.
Sophomore Charles Matthews finished 70th with a two-day score of 1,138.
Lauzon joined Moral on East Coweta’s 2012 lineup and finished fourth in scoring average during the regular season with a 287.0 out of a possible 300. Destiny Collier was fifth, with both shooters qualifying individually by firing scores of 290 during regular-season matches. “Most of them are in their first year,” Merrill said.
The program’s success since the GHSA made riflery a championship sport in 1992 truly has made a mark throughout the state from East Coweta’s title in 2000 and Amber Crist’s state-record score of 398.9 in 2001 all the way to a second-place finish in 2011.
East Coweta has missed the finals just three times since 1998 while placing in the top-five among team scores in 11 of the past 14 seasons. It included seven straight years from 2005-11 that was finally snapped last spring.
A younger lineup could allow this year’s team to fly under the radar after posting two of its better scores of the season over the past three weeks.
“I think it helps having a young team,” Merrill said. “When you have freshmen and sophomores, I don’t think there’s quite as much pressure as if it were someone’s last year [competing].”
East Coweta is also using its two weeks leading up to the GHSA Championships to adjust to Fort Benning’s Olympic range, which requires the use of tables for prone and kneeling positions.
“It’s a big adjustment,” Merrill said. “In prone, you have to shoot up from your position because of the layout. They’re working hard, but at the same time they’re keeping everything in perspective.”