Fountain-Fort Carson's rifle team is used to a certain level of success. The banners creeping across the school cafeteria are a reminder.
F-FC puts forth a precision team — which rifle marksmanship coach Rodney Smith compared to pads-on football — and sporting, which he compared to flag football.
Most all of the athletes come from military families. They have come to know their own minds and tendencies — and those of their teammates — extremely well.
“There are some times where we’re like, ‘Get out of my face,’ but most of the time, we’re like family,” sophomore Madesyn Floyd said.
The team traveled out of state four times this season, including in early February to Chandler, Arizona, for the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps service national championship, where Smith said F-FC won the region after finishing runner-up to Stuttgart, Germany, two years in a row.
So much of the groundwork for success happens between the ears. Smith said the team practices 10-12 hours per week and does a lot of mental focus training.
“Trusting mindset over thinking mindset — that’s tough for teenagers,” Smith said.
One tool is dedicated journaling. Senior Jeric Wandasan said his journal is a record, and an organizational tool.
“It’s like talking to yourself, expressing all your thoughts,” sophomore Zander Santin said. “Then you can look back at that match, see what you’ve done. Make adjustments as needed. Come back with a better mental attitude.”
They sound sold now, but Smith said it’s tougher to get male athletes to journal. Each gender comes with its own obstacles, but Smith pointed to a solid trend.
Boys are still growing, and haven’t mastered use of their limbs. They’re easily frustrated, and have a tendency to be bullish — “Stop letting your testosterone shoot for you,” Smith recalls having to remind them. Girls tend to overanalyze to the point where they create problems where none exist.
But they’re certainly overcoming it.
“This is a girls’ sport,” Smith said. “Girls are dominating this sport across the spectrum. From the juniors shooting all the way to college and into the Olympics, girls are on top of it. It’s fun to watch.”
MacKenzie Nicholson is the top female athlete for precision in the state. Senior Julia Flake, another standout, and her family moved to the area from Washington. They picked Fountain-Fort Carson largely because of its rifle team.
There’s a summer camp on the horizon and several individuals are headed to the USA Shooting Junior Olympics at the Olympic Training Center. But after a 10th-place showing at the JROTC All-Service National competition in Anniston, Alabama, a few weeks ago, the team is retooling for another year.
Flake is headed to the Air Force prep school. Nicholson’s father was transferred, so she’s leaving as well. In all, there will be three returners to the top precision team. That means a lot of turnover, but there’s always talent in the wings, waiting on gear and opportunity.
Waiting on a chance to keep lining that cafeteria with banners.
Wandasan, who’s headed to Colorado School of Mines after four years with Smith at Fountain-Fort Carson, will be back to watch his brother, who just started precision.
“Being able to watch him the next four years after I go to college is going to be great,” Wandasan said.