Following one of its best seasons ever, the impressive Ole Miss rifle team is prepared to take on the competition.
Written by Robyn Jackson | Photos Provided by Ole Miss Athletics
They might be big shots in the world of collegiate competitive shooting, but the members of the Ole Miss rifle team keep their eyes on the target and get the job done without much fanfare.
“It’s just a sport that a lot of people know little about,” said Marsha Beasley, who is entering her fifth year as head coach. She coached eight NCAA-winning teams during her tenure at West Virginia.
The Ole Miss rifle team is coming off one of its best seasons in program history and coping with the uncertainty of the 2020-21 season, which could be cut short or even canceled due to COVID-19.
The virus has already had an effect. If things had gone as planned, 2017 graduate
Ali Weisz would have competed in August at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Instead, the games were postponed until next year, and Weisz enlisted in the Army and attended basic training, something she had planned to do after the Olympics.
She has a guaranteed place at the Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Georgia, on the U.S. Army Shooting Team.
“With the Olympics getting postponed it was the best time to go without having to miss any big competitions!” Weisz wrote in an email to Beasley.
Although she was disappointed to have her Olympic dreams put on hold, she’s already received good news: USA Shooting has notified Team USA that they will compete at the Olympics in 2021 without having to requalify.
“That’s huge that somebody from Ole Miss made the Olympic team,” Beasley said. “That’s the kind of thing that helps recruiting. I think we’ve worked hard to create the environment that it is a good place to be, and a good place to develop your skills.”
Last school year, as a junior, Abby Buesseler qualified for smallbore at the NCAA Rifle Championships in Lexington, Kentucky, in March, but the competition was canceled the day before it was to begin due to COVID-19.
“It was frustrating at the time, but I feel like I prepared enough that I was happy with where it ended,” said Buesseler, 21, a biochemistry major.
Buesseler set several school records last season, and she was named First Team for smallbore by the National Rifle Association. She was also named Second Team for smallbore and Third Team for aggregate by the Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association.
The Stacy, Minnesota, native discovered competitive shooting at a game fair in ninth grade. She and her identical twin sister, Dana, joined a junior club at the American Legion, and they grew up competing against each other. Dana now competes with the rifle team at Murray State University in Kentucky.
Buesseler credits Beasley and assistant coach Jean-Pierre Lucas for pushing her to achieve goals she didn’t know were possible.
“I love going to school here,” Buesseler said. “I really like the support I’ve gotten through athletics. Our academic advisor is super great, he’s always pushing us. Marsha and J.P., on the range, they’re pushing us. I never feel like I’m alone.”
The Ole Miss rifle team enjoys the support of the University of Mississippi community, with a new attendance record of 84 spectators per match set last season.
Home competitions are held at the team’s custom shooting range inside the National
Guard Armory in Oxford.
NCAA rifle matches consist of two events, smallbore and air rifle. Each coach picks five shooters to compete, and the top four scores are added to determine the team score. In smallbore, .22-caliber rifles are fired at a distance of 50 feet. Twenty shots each are fired in kneeling, prone and standing positions in a time limit of 105 minutes. Compressed air rifles fire .177-caliber pellets at targets 10 meters away. During a 75-minute period, shooters fire 60 shots.
The all-female Ole Miss team is one of about 29 rifle programs at U.S. colleges. Members hail from across the country, with one from Hungary set to join this year. Practice begins in September for the upcoming season. The team practices shooting five days a week for three hours, and they also do weight training and yoga. Cardio is important for shooters because they have to control their heart rate, timing it so they can take a shot between beats.
“People say that shooting is 90% mental, and I’d agree with that,” Buesseler said. “When I get on the range, it gives me a break from that academic stress. It helps me learn to handle and cope with stress, and balancing academics, athletics and my personal life.”
The first match of the 2020-21 season is set for Oct. 11. Ole Miss plans to test athletes weekly for COVID-19, and if they test positive, they will have to quarantine.
“The hardest part is the unknown,” Beasley said. “Even if we have some matches canceled, each team member can work hard and continue to improve her skills. Team members can support each other and work to be ready for every competition opportunity. If we can do those things, we will have a great season.”
More 2019-20 season highlights:
-The Rebels spent the entire regular season in the Top 10 of the Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association poll, reaching as high as No. 5, a new best for the program.
-Freshman Kristen Derting finished sixth in her first smallbore competition at the Great America Rifle Conference Championships. It was the highest for a Rebel since 2012.
-The team recorded seven of the top 10 scores in school history, as well as 10 of the top 15 totals.
-Lucas was named Great America Rifle Conference Assistant Coach of the Year for the second time in three seasons.
-Junior Abby Buesseler was inducted into Mortar Board honor society. Junior Kamilla Kisch was inducted into Phi Kappa Phi honor society, and sophomore Jillian Zakrzeski was named the Ole Miss Army ROTC Cadet of the Month for March.
-Nine members were named Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association Scholastic All-Americans.
-The team’s GPA for spring semester was 3.66, the best ever.