Oct. 4, 2013
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The Navy rifle team will begin its 2013-14 season this weekend with the 2013 Navy Invitational in Annapolis. Navy will welcome VMI and John Jay on Saturday before taking on Akron and SUNY Maritime on Sunday. Action will begin both days at 8 a.m. at the Bancroft Hall Rifle Range.
The Mids come into the 2013-14 season as a talented, but young group with 10 underclassmen on their roster. In total, 15th-year head coach Bill Kelley graduates just one member from last year's team, Ryan Williams, a 2013 NRA Honorable Mention All-American in air rifle.
Senior captain Steven Frazier (McDonough, Ga.) will be leaned upon to lead the Mids into their first season in the ultra-competitive Great American Rifle Conference (GARC). In the 2013 NCAA Championship, four of the eight teams competing were GARC schools: Kentucky, Nebraska, Army and the eventual National Champion, West Virginia.
"The GARC is the premier rifle conference in the United States," said Kelley. "We wanted this new challenge because it will make us better as a program. Our athletes are more motivated, more focused and it helps our team depth and recruitment because great shooters want to shoot against great competition."
Frazier, who was the MAC Champion in 2012 in smallbore and air rifle, elevated his level of performance even more as a junior as he was named a Second-Team NRA Collegiate All-American in smallbore. In 2013, he led Navy in smallbore with a 577.9 season average and shot a career-high 583 at the President's Trophy match in November. Frazier also posted a 580.7 average in air rifle to rank third on the team.
"Steven has the potential to move up to First-Team All-American in smallbore and air rifle this year" said Kelley. "The work he has put in leads me to believe that his competition scores will get to those levels."
As a captain Kelley remarked that, "Steven's leadership has been excellent and a bit surprising. He's matured a lot, especially after some rough patches early on as a youngster. He's really done a great job of leading by example and also taking time to understand and council his teammates."
The junior class of Alex Berry (Greensboro, N.C.) and Brandon Thompson (Shelbyville, Ky.) will aid Frazier both competitively and with the team's leadership. Berry shot in all 12 smallbore events for the Mids in 2012-13, as well as in 10 for air rifle, while Thompson shot in 10 competitions.
"Competitively, Alex has produced this preseason at an all-american pace," said Kelley. "She could challenge Steven with the best scores in smallbore."
"The upperclassmen have created a strong brand of leadership that the underclassmen can look up to," said Kelley describing Frazier, Berry and Thompson's guidance. "In a true mark of maturity, the three of them have grasped the lessons of the Naval Academy and realize the importance of leadership and helping their teammates when they need direction."
The sophomore trio of Jodi Cull-Host (Los Alamos, N.M.), Zach Gibson (Montrose, Colo.) and Shawn Cleary (Sugar Land, Texas) all had strong debuts in 2012 as they earned All-MAC honors for their individual success.
Cull-Host led the group as she was named First-Team in air rifle and Second-Team in smallbore. She finished her freshman season with a 582.4 average in air rifle to rank second on the team. In her final event of the year at the GARC Championships, Cull-Host shot a career-best 590 in air rifle.
"Jodi has great talent and has improved enough in smallbore that I could see her earning All-American status in both disciplines this season" said Kelley.
Gibson garnered second-team nods in both air rifle and smallbore, while Cleary was recognized on the second-team for air rifle. Gibson and Cleary ranked fourth and fifth on the team in air rifle with their season averages of 577.5 and 571.4, respectively.
"Both Zach and Shawn are very talented" said Kelley. "We are excited to see Zach rounding back into form, as well as Shawn scoring high with air rifle and improving in smallbore."
All three Mids were named to the MAC All-Rookie Team last season.
Dan Ecker (Clarence Center, N.Y.) and Andrew Kim (Corona, Calif.) round out Navy's sophomore class.
Kelley's team continues to grow as five freshmen join the program for the 2013-14 season. Jordan DiPaola (Strasburg, Va.), Haruka Earney (Oak Harbor, Wash.), Dan Jonas (Allentown, N.J.), Brandon Pippin (Nashville, Tenn.) and Nick Priftis (Fairfax, Va.) make up this year's plebe class.
"This year's freshmen class is very strong and talented. I'm not surprised by their preseason success," said Kelley.
Individually, Kelley highlighted Jonas, DiPaola and Pippin as plebes, who have impressed in the preseason. "Dan is going to start for us right away, he's capable of making All-American in both disciplines this year," remarked Kelley. "Both Jordan and Brandon have produced excellent in the preseason. With Brandon, he lacks some experience, but he's extremely coachable and has a real good chance to prove himself."
The Mids' 2013-14 schedule includes matches against all seven GARC opponents - Army, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina State, Nebraska, Ole Miss and West Virginia.
The annual Army-Navy Star Match will take place Feb. 1 in Annapolis.
"This year should be exciting," said Kelley. "With the move to the GARC and another strong class of freshmen joining the program, the future is nothing but bright for us."