The NC State rifle team finished its season this weekend by winning the South Eastern Air Rifle Conference in Charleston, S.C. With another undefeated season in conference under its belt and a fifth SEARC title in the last six years, the rifle team may be NC State athletics’ best kept secret.
Dani Foster, a freshman from Newport News, Va., took top SEARC individual honors and is the only Wolfpacker to advance to the NCAA Championships, held at Ohio State March 9-10. Madeline Pike, Bryan Cross and William Teller were named to the All-SEARC team.
Keith Miller ’85, the team’s head coach since 1990, says the team’s success has been a process. In the 1960s, Miller says, varsity sports took the team over from ROTC, and it’s been an NCAA sport since then.
But Miller says it was treated like a part-time sport, and so about 10 years ago he went to the athletics administration and asked that the team be treated like other varsity sports.
Since then, the team has gone from a volunteer staff to a coach who is full-time. And the Wolfpack is consistently a top-20 program and a top competitor in SEARC and in the Great American Rifle Conference.
With such a successful team, Miller depends on disciplined and coachable students. He says there’s little opportunity for walk-ons. That puts a premium on recruiting, which sometimes presents problems in attracting the nation’s best shooters. That’s because NC State doesn’t have its own range on campus, requiring the team to pack up and head out to Holly Springs twice a week and practice air rifle inside Reynolds Coliseum.
“That makes it tough,” Miller says. “We lose kids to Ole Miss, Ohio State and West Virginia.”
But Miller says Athletics Director Debbie Yow has tried to help find an alternative for the range. And she’s helped the team secure another full-time assistant and funds for the maximum number of scholarships the NCAA allows.
In addition to those boons, Miller credits the team’s success to the sport being somewhat of an outlier among other NCAA sports. It’s the only sport, for example, which fields coed teams.
“There’s not a competitive advantage or disadvantage, per se,” Miller says. “It’s a neat thing to have a coed aspect to it. It makes it much more of a little family.”