The Ohio State rifle team set a program-high opening match score of 4,658 at its season opener in Reno, Nevada, on Sept. 26 and 27.
The Buckeyes, who entered the season ranked No. 7 in the country, fired a score of 2,316 in smallbore and a team score of 2,342 in air rifle. The combined total marks the program’s fourth highest all-time.
OSU coach Ryan Tanoue said he views the score as a positive sign, but acknowledges that there’s still work to be done.
“I think it’s definitely a good sign for us and the outlook for the year. At the same time, I don’t think you want to read too much into it,” Tanoue said. “I think there’s definitely a lot of room for us to improve, and we know that.”
Sophomore Drew Cheezum led the way for the Buckeyes in Nevada, setting a personal best 586 in smallbore. An NCAA qualifier last year, Cheezum is picking up where he left off last season.
“Last year I was really only proud of one score, which happened to be the last match that we shot in smallbore,” Cheezum said. “I felt a little bit more pressure since I finished so strongly last year. It just felt really good to do even better than I finished off.”
Despite the record strong start, sophomore Joshua Black said he thinks they can push themselves further.
“It’s not exactly a satisfying score even though it’s a season-opening record,” he said. “I think a record that we can easily break this year is going to be the team record overall as a school.”
Alongside Cheezum and Black, all of the rifle team’s starters from last season have returned, giving the Buckeyes an experienced squad.
Black said he feels having a year of experience under his belt is helping him focus on competing.
“I feel like my freshman year I had a pretty big learning curve, and right now I’m just trying to develop my skills and really go out and perform in the matches,” Black said.
Tanoue also looks at the team’s experience as a strength.
“It’s huge in terms of our comfort level throughout the season and also in being able to deal with the expectations of being able to go on the road and have the form, so it’s a very good thing to have everybody back,” Tanoue said. “We’re going to rely very heavily on that experience throughout the year.”
Freshman Michael Steinel, the lone new face to the travel team, said he enjoyed the experience of his first collegiate match.
“It was really nice traveling with the team. It was a very good atmosphere,” he said. “It was a little strange not having my family there, my old teammates and things like that, but coach takes care of everything for you and the team really supports you.”
Despite still learning to adjust to the college lifestyle, Steinel said he feels comfortable in competition.
“I’d say I had a fairly productive time as a junior. I went to a lot of big matches and got a lot of experience there,” Steinel said. “But I was home-schooled, so time management is a lot different here.”
The Buckeyes, who are part of the Patriot Rifle Conference, a rifle-only conference for schools whose primary conferences do not have rifle as a sponsored sport, have goals on multiple levels.
“Some of the smaller goals we have are to be as competitive as possible within our conference. Our conference is very strong,” Tanoue said. “Even though we came into the preseason ranked seventh, Texas Christian and Alaska Fairbanks were ranked second and third in those rankings.”
While success in conference competition is a smaller goal, reaching the NCAA championships is the ultimate objective for the team.
“The big goal for our team, and every rifle team out there, is to qualify for the NCAA championship,” Tanoue said. “I think we’re on a good track to be able to do that, but it was only match one.”
Cheezum and then-junior Remington Lyman qualified as individuals last year, but the team narrowly missed out.
“It was a really neat experience to go there as an individual because you didn’t have the pressure of performing for a team, but being there without the team was a little sad,” Cheezum said. “It just makes us want to work that much harder this year.”
The rifle team looks to continue its strong start on Oct. 16, when it is set to compete against Air Force in Fairbanks, Alaska. The following day, the Buckeyes are scheduled to square off against Alaska.