You would expect students at our nation's military academies to be well-trained in shooting guns. It is no wonder then that these institutions have the best college riflery teams in the nation. The Naval Academy is the perennial national champion. But last october, the soldiers of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy varsity rifle team lost a dual matchup to Princeton's club rifle team.
"It was very surprising," junior captain Greg Engel said. "in a pleasant way."
What was even more surprising were the events that followed the Tigers' victory.
First, Princeton was bumped up to a stronger division. The Tigers had been in the Targeteer division where they faced other club teams such as Columbia and M.I.T. With its victory over the Merchant Marine Academy, Princeton was moved up to the Marksman division where it faced many varsity squads.
Princeton continued its strong performances in its five league meets throughout the regular season. Then, despite the better competition of the Marksman division, the Tigers earned a bid to the Mid-Atlantic Conference Rifle championship for the first time in four years.
At the championships, the Tigers placed second in the Marksman division. Princeton lost to DePaul University, a varsity squad, 2,041 to 1,943.
"It was a spectacular season," Engel said. "We were surprised to move up a division and even more surprised to come in second in the division."
Despite being only a club team, riflery has a long history at Princeton. The team was founded in 1879 and until 1983, the squad was a varsity team.
Riflery competitions consist of taking shots with 22-caliber rifles at targets 50 feet away. Four members from a team take 60 shots each with the goal of hitting the center ring – the bull's eye. Men and women shoot against each other – the only NCAA sport with coed competition. The four scores are then totaled for a combined team score.
The bull's eye is extremely small, .4 millimeters in diameter – the size of a typewriter period – and is worth 10 points. The maximum score per shooter is therefore 600 points – a feat that has never been accomplished, not even on the Olympic level.
The 60 shots per shooter are taken from three positions (20 shots each): standing, kneeling and prone. Standing is the most difficult position and Tiger shooters typically score 160 of a possible 200 points from this position. From the prone and keeling positions, the Tiger shooters average 185 and 170, respectively.
The season is now over for Princeton's club rifle team but the Tigers hope to build on their success this season. The team hopes for an increase in participation and has varsity status set as its long term goal.