MOULTRIE — The Colquitt County High air rifle team has been a force in South Georgia for a number of years and is not a total stranger to state-level high school competition.

But this season, traditional air rifle powers have to be looking to the southwest part of the state and wonder what is going on down here.

It’s not so much that the Colquitt County team, made up entirely of Marine Corps JROTC cadets, is undefeated after five matches.

Colquitt County won 14 straight matches three years ago, but finished just third in the area competition and lost in its first-round state match.

Two years ago, Colquitt County shot a school record 1,137 in the state sectionals and went on to shoot a 1,105 for ninth in the state.

Last year, the team did not shoot well down the stretch, hampered by an inability to score high in the off-hand, or standing, position.

But this season, although only five matches in, Colquitt County may finally be a legitimate state high school championship contender.

The team has broken the school scoring record in each of its first five matches and set the record of 1,152 in the last three.

That score would have won the state championship by 10 points last spring. The score Woodward Academy scored to win the state championship in 2004 was 1,144.

And while the team had just four state-qualifying scores of 290 or better the last four years, this year’s team has five already and Colquitt County’s top four shooters have all qualified as individuals for state.

“They are all focused and are buckling down,” said the team’s coach, Gunnery Sgt. Emmett Bryant. “It’s really uplifting to see the kids putting forth this much effort.”

Lt. Col. Paul Nagy, who leads the Marine Corps JROTC unit at Colquitt County High, said this year’s team “is very, very disciplined. I can count on one hand the number of missed practices.”

And the team is not only successful in it high school competition.

It won the Gary Anderson Invitational, a national event held at Fort Benning last fall, knocking off Northside High of Columbus, last year’s state champion in the process.

The team also has qualified to represent Marine Corps JROTC units in the Civilian Markmanship Program National Championships to be held next month.

Colquitt County placed eighth in the National Championships last year.

Leading this year’s team is senior Victoria Dampier, who has been shooting on the team for four years.

She averaged 271.8 out of a possible 300 as a ninth-grader. She missed several matches as a sophomore, but continued to show promise, once shooting a 100 in the prone position and twice scoring a 280.

Last year, she was second-team All-Area and averaged a 278.3.

She started her senior season by turning in an outstanding performance in the Gary Anderson Invitational with a 578, placing ninth out of 190 shooters.

She leads in the team in scoring in the high school matches, averaging 288.4 and has scores of 293 and 291 to her credit.

Only Stephen Lawson had hit 290 or better twice in a season for Colquitt County. He did it in 2004.

Dampier, whose sister Miranda also shot on the team the last two years, leads the team this season with a 97.6 in the kneeling position and a 98.4 in the prone position.

Yohann Brinson, another senior, is averaging 287.4 and also has a 293 to his credit.

Brinson joined the team midway through the season as a sophomore and averaged 269. Last year, he averaged 283.7, shot a 290 to qualify individually for state and was was on the All-Area first team.

His most remarkable performance came on Wednesday when he shot a 286, including a 94 in the prone position, while wearing a cast on his right hand after suffering a broken little finger last week.

Corona also is a veteran who averaged 284 as a sophomore two years ago. Last year, her 286.1 was third in the area, her 94.2 in the standing position was first in the area and she was named to the All-Area first team.

After a relatively slow start — shooting 284, 280 and 282 in the first three matches — Corona has been outstanding in the last two. She fired a 289 against Westover in a home match and a state-qualifying 290 on Thursday at Wilcox County. She shot 289 twice last year.

Junior Shontae Robinson shot in nine matches last year, averaging 268.7. She is averaging 287.2 in five matches this season, including a 293 at home against Westover.

And the team is building for the future as well. Amanda Thompson is averaging 273 and missed a state-qualifying score by just three points on Thursday. Megan Dubberly is averaging 270; and Joshua Taylor is averaging 273.5. All three are first-year shooters.

“I think this speaks a lot for what these kids are doing,” Bryant said as the team prepares for Turner County and Fitzgerald next week. “We’ve just got to stay focused.”

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