OK, I admit it. I don't know much about college rifle.
Except that we've had a team for nine years, and the only coach we've ever had is Valerie Booth, the gracious and accommodating Rebel rifle mentor that I visit with a couple of times a year to do stories on her team.
This weekend we host the GARC Championships. That's Great America Rifle Conference, for those of you who might be wondering. And for those of you who might not be, too.
At the new joint complex Oxford Conference Center and Patricia C. Lamar Readiness Center (that's National Guard Armory for those of you who again might be wondering, located on Highway 7 at Sisk Ave.), seven schools will compete for the title of best rifle team in the GARC.
Ole Miss is one of those. So are several other name schools across the country. At first glance it appears to be a conglomeration of representatives of SEC and Conference USA and Big 12 and Big East and Atlantic 10. That's exactly what it is.
The members of those leagues who have rifle as an NCAA sanctioned intercollegiate sport have joined to become the GARC. And they'll be in Oxford this weekend.
Army will be here. Hold it right there. Why do I hope Ole Miss wins when Army is in the field? Even with weapons of no destruction and only shooting for competitive purposes.
Guess I'll just hope Ole Miss and Army are co-champions of GARC. That'll make me feel good for the Ole Miss athletic department and also the safety of America and its place in the world.
Nebraska will be here (they already know we can beat them in football; see Indy Bowl of 2002). So will Memphis (they know we're going to start beating them in football again on Labor Day afternoon).
Kentucky is sending its team (their football team will come down later in the year; their men's hoops team just escaped Oxford a few weeks ago and should warn their rifle team it might not be as easy to win here as they think.)
Like men's basketball, Kentucky is a perennial powerhouse in rifle.
West Virginia is coming (I refuse to acknowledge they exist after the Music City Bowl debacle of 2000), and so is Xavier (no football team there – just hoops and rifle).
Ole Miss, Army, Nebraska, Memphis, Kentucky, West Virginia, Xavier.
That's your field for the GARC Championships at Ole Miss this weekend.
Most of the teams are co-ed. Both guys and ladies will be shooting. Ole Miss is one of only a couple of entrants that is strictly a women's team.
Teams compete in two disciplines – air rifle and small bore. At this point in writing this, I had to get some information back out that Coach Booth gave me a few years ago to help me understand the sport of rifle better.
"A beginner's guide to shooting terms" it's called. I won't go into great detail, but here goes.
An air rifle is "a weapon that uses a .177 caliber lead pellet propelled by a charge of compressed air instead of a gunpowder charge."
Then there is small bore, which is a .22 caliber rifle used in competition.
Need more info? Coach Booth, herself a champion rifle competitor in college at Tennessee-Martin, explains further.
"Small bore is shot at 50 feet and is shot in three different positions (standing, kneeling, prone) with 20 shots in each position," said Booth, the current national chair of the NCAA national rifle committee. "Air rifle is shot at 33 feet and is shot standing only. The major differences in the two are the distance and the fact that air rifle is shot standing only."
There is some competition Friday at the GARC Championships, but most of it is Saturday all day and also on Sunday.
The finals of the air rifle portion of the GARC will begin at approximately 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The finals of small bore will start at approximately 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
"The finals will be the most entertaining for fans to come watch," Booth said. "And if they have questions, we will have a lot of volunteers there, many of them parents of players, who jump at the chance to explain the sport to anybody who hasn't seen it before."
Ole Miss associate athletics director/senior women's administrator Lynnette Johnson said she hopes some will support the event. Admission is free.
"We want people to experience rifle for the first time," she said. "Our kids would love to see them there supporting them and helping them be successful."
Rifle isn't a new sport. It's an Olympic sport that has been around since the first modern games in 1896. More than 40 NCAA schools now sanction it. Several Mississippi high schools offer the sport.
And now the GARC comes to Oxford.
"We've been planning for this for a year," Booth said. "And now it is here. There will be like 150 people in here for the weekend, and it is a good time for us to showcase Oxford and Ole Miss. This is a really big deal for our program, and we'd love for a lot of people to come out and see a quality event and the new facility."
Justin Reed was wearing red and blue this time last year as a Rebel. Now his game day attire is the bright green of the Boston Celtics.
Reed, who starred at Ole Miss, is in his rookie NBA season. He was home last weekend when his old team beat Tennessee 60-58.
"It's been great so far," Reed said. "It's a dream come true."
Reed was the 11th pick in the second round by the Celtics last summer. Early in the season he didn't play much and was actually a member of the 15-man lineup and not the 12-man game to game roster. In the past few weeks he has seen more action, averaging two points a game in 10 games with a high of 13 points in 15 minutes of action against Milwaukee on February 8.
"I've become more consistent and worked hard to try to get ahead," the Jackson Provine High grad said. "I'm a team player, but I'm working hard while waiting on my opportunity. So much of the game at this level is mental, and I'm working on that, too."
Reed said it was good to be back in Oxford and to see his old team get a win.
"I wish I was playing. I wish I was out there with those guys. I'm ready to play. I helped raise those guys from when they were freshmen on up. I'd give anything to be out there helping them right now."
Except for the fact that he is living another dream, that of being in the NBA.
"It's been a great experience so far. I'm just glad to have the opportunity to play in the NBA."
Baseball knew it would have the veteran and deep arms; knew the defense was better last year and would be solid again this year.
But what about the hitting?
Toward the end of last season, the Rebels' hitting cost them some games. So far this year, even with some average hitting performances in a couple of games, the Rebels appear to have the bats to get it done.
Against Southwest Missouri, the Rebels had 15 hits and six runs, but against Belmont those numbers rose to 18 in each category.
"We've been hitting the ball all season," Stephen Head said of the Rebels, who are batting .330 as a team with 59 hits, 43 runs, 38 RBI, 12 doubles, two triples, and five home runs, led by Brian Pettway with two round-trippers. "Sometimes they've just been right at a guy."
Tuesday was their best day yet as the Rebels scored 18 runs on 18 hits in an 18-0 win.
The Rebels just started an 18-game home stand with Tuesday's 18-0 win over Belmont University. They opened the season with a 10-0 win over Arkansas State at home, went to the Rice tourney for three games, and then came back home until March 22 when they play Memphis at Autozone Park.
"Everybody's comfortable at home," said Head, who hit his first home run of the season against Belmont. "It's where you spend all your time. You know the field. It's like your back yard. You know everything about it. You know how it plays and you love playing in front of your fans. You know they are cheering for you."
That being said, Head says the Rebels learned some things about themselves at Houston.
"The biggest thing we came back with, even from the loss to Rice, was that even not playing our best game against them, we had them beat. We didn't play well, and they didn't play well. But if we learned anything, it is that we're as good as anybody. If our guys don't think we're pretty good and have some more confidence after that, they should. I think we came back with a lot and learned a lot from that loss."
The whole team was pleased with the offensive production against Belmont. They want it to carry over to the weekend when Southern Illinois comes to Oxford for three games.
"We've been swinging the bats, and finally we came up with a lot of big hits," said third baseman Chris Coghlan, who was 4-for-5 with four RBI. "Anytime you can get the same number of runs as hits, especially since it was 18 each, that's a good thing."
Coach Mike Bianco said that against the Bruins on Tuesday it was good to be able to play so many of his Rebels. The bench was basically cleared.
"It's nice when that happens. So many of the guys are deserving of playing time, and it's nice to see. I think we got basically everybody in the game today.
"I think I was most proud of the fact that while we were in control and way ahead, we didn't allow the game to get sloppy. The pitchers that came in pumped the ball into the strike zone. The fielders fielded all the balls. And the hitters walked when they were supposed to walk, and when the ball was in the zone they got good swings off and continued to extend the lead. That's what you hope for, that your batters don't get up and swing at bad pitches. We played a real clean game. Hopefully that will continue."
Gametimes for UM-SIU are 3 p.m. Friday and 1:30 p.m. each day on Saturday and Sunday.
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