Hempfield rifle team has good shot at WPIALs

Sunday, February 10, 2019 | 6:03 PM

Hempfield’s rifle team will shoot Tuesday for the opportunity to repeat as WPIAL champions.

First-year coach Jason Wilkinson — he was an assistant last season — put his team’s chances of winning another title into simple terms.

“If they perform to their ability, we will win WPIALs,” he said. “If they perform to their ability, I have no doubt they can shoot an 800 target with a high x count. But, you know, if another team shoots an 800 with an extremely high x count, I’ll shake all their hands just the same if they’d won it.”

Senior captain Kayla Brownfield feels the same way.

Teams such as Butler, Woodland Hills, Trinity and Bethel Park are the most likely to dethrone the Spartans, but Hempfield’s greatest challenge will be its confidence.

“I think we are going to win it,” Brownfield said. “I really think we will, but I know some people have talked about how we should at least get second or third. We should be more confident that we are going to win it.”

Hempfield is beatable — it lost to Butler in early January after a two-week break in the season. The loss means the Spartans will have the same 7-1 section record it had going into the WPIAL championships last year.

The loss also was a lesson the Spartans aren’t untouchable on an off day, but Hempfield has been nearly perfect since mid-January, scoring a league-high 799.92 average in six matches.

The Spartans recorded six of the league’s top 15 scores in that stretch. No other team has more than two top-15 scores.

“When you get to this point, it’s similar to football on any given Sunday,” Wilkinson said. “The difference is in football, when you throw two incomplete passes, you have time to make that up. In this, if one kid drops a point and then another kid drops a point, it’s over. It’s done. There’s no getting it back.”

Wilkinson is counting on seniors such as Brownfield, Emily Thomas and Charidan Updyke to keep the team composed.

“What keeps it so fun and interesting is this group of kids, be it freshmen or seniors, is wonderful,” Wilkinson said. “I can’t say enough about how much the seniors have helped me with my first year and transition and how much they’ve done to help and support each other. This is a high-character group.”

Brownfield’s presence is like having a second coach, Wilkinson said.

“Every time someone has a problem, she is right there to help, which all of our seniors do,” Wilkinson said. “She will put them in a position to help them improve. She’s amazing. If I died today, she’d have no problem taking everyone to WPIALs and coaching them.”

There are five shooters who have a chance Thursday to win individual WPIALs: Thomas, Brownfield, Updyke and freshman twins Lydia and Levi Dunn.

Thomas has the highest average score on the team.

“Emily can be the fastest shooter, which comes into play at WPIAL individuals with 20 minutes to shoot two targets,” Wilkinson said. “Speed is a factor. Emily has done this since she was young: excellent concentration and doesn’t get rattled easy. We’ve got a few who can win it.”

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer.


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