The No. 8 Ole Miss rifle team has consistently competed at the top of its game this season. Defeating North Carolina State, Akron, Army, Nebraska and most recently, No. 13 Navy, the women of the rifle team proudly boast a 5-2 Great American Rifle Conference record with the team’s only GARC losses coming against No. 1 West Virginia and No. 3 Kentucky.
The onset of the team’s success began in 2016 with the hiring of head coach Marsha Beasley. Arriving after a hiatus from the sport, Beasley advertised an impressive resume of eight national NCAA Rifle championships at West Virginia and involvement with the Atlanta Olympics. Ole Miss Athletics hoped to skyrocket the success of the rifle team with Beasley’s expertise and eventually win a national championship of its own. While much of the season still remains, Beasley and her team have done an exceptional job so far.
“This season has been an indication of how well the program is doing,” Beasley said. “We have broken three school records so far and look to be breaking more.”
The team records broken include a score of 4667 against Ohio State University, 4669 against Nebraska and the most recent record of 4687 against Alaska-Fairbanks. The scoring record was broken all three times within a week of each other, proving that Ole Miss rifle is still gaining momentum.
While having talented athletes is a large component of their current success, Beasley attributes most of the program’s wins to an atmosphere of team unity and positive energy.
“The team, as a whole, has done well this season,” Beasley said. “Everyone has been stepping up and shooting their own personal bests. It has really been a team effort.”
Senior member Kristyn Trump said she also believes in the power of a tight-knit team, preaching the importance of accountability amongst one another.
“The most exciting part about this rifle season is our team,” Trump said. “We have been working hard to build a positive team atmosphere and keep each other accountable.”
Playing a large factor in the team’s unity is the surprising number of freshmen who comprise this year’s team. Typically, upperclassmen contribute most of the counted scores in competition, but this year is different, as three of the six freshmen on the roster have stepped up and have had their scores counted regularly.
“Bringing in these freshmen has changed the team’s culture,” Beasley said. “Three of our top four counted scores have come from freshmen in competition this season, which is really something new.”
The addition of assistant coach Jean-Pierre Lucas has also played a role in the team’s success. Lucas’ positivity allows all of the team members to push themselves to perform at their best, which is crucial when it comes time for competition. Beasley said the assistant coach’s energy is contagious and she sees the team’s reaction to his excitement translated in its scores.
Sophia Cuozzo, one of this season’s standout freshmen, recently shot her highest career aggregate score of 1158 against Alaska-Fairbanks. Cuozzo has participated in rifle since the age of 12 but said she has enjoyed taking her hobby to the collegiate level and contributing to the success of a record-breaking team.
“A personal goal for me is to prove that I have a place in college athletics and be confident that all of the hard work I have put into my sport will shine through in the years to come,” Cuozzo said.
With the way that the early season has unfolded, the Ole Miss rifle team is hungry for a national championship win. Although the team is optimistic of winning it all, Beasley said she would be proud of her team qualifying in the top 18 for NCAA teams.
“We obviously want to win, but we will continue to do the best that we can,” Beasley said. “The season has gone great thus far, but we still have a long way to go.”
Ole Miss will compete again on Feb. 11 against Memphis. The competition will be held at 9 a.m. in Oxford.
This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian by an advanced reporting class.