CHARLESTON, S.C. – Freshman rifle cadet-athlete Max Brabston is quickly establishing himself as one of the up-and-coming shooters in the Southern Conference as he put up some of the best scores in the league throughout the season and was named the SoCon Freshman of the Year earlier this month.
Next month, he will take what he has learned in his first year at The Citadel and put it to an even bigger test as he travels to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado for the 2018 National Junior Olympics April 6-12.
This will not be Brabston's first run in the event as he qualified last year in air rifle as a senior in high school, but this year he is one of just 72 male shooters to qualify in both air and smallbore.
"I'm looking forward to using this as a marker to see how I've improved over this season," Brabston said. "I'm looking forward to showing off how I've improved as a shooter because I feel I have grown a lot since I matriculated in to The Citadel. My cadre has put a lot of work into making me more disciplined and that has carried over into my shooting performances. So, I'm just looking forward to showing off how much I have improved all around."
Looking back on last year, Brabston is glad he gets a second chance to compete in the event as he was extremely nervous the first go around and didn't necessarily compete at the level he knows he can.
"It was very nerve-wracking last year because I had just told Coach Smith that I would be coming to The Citadel and I was going to shoot for him," Brabston said. "I was very nervous because there's a lot of very good competition there. There were a lot of people from some of the best rifle programs in the country, like N.C. State and the Air Force Academy just to name a few. Shooting next to them really made me nervous because it was my first real national match."
Having been through the nerves of such a big competition helped prepare him for competing at the collegiate level this year as a freshman. This season, Brabston and The Citadel co-ed rifle team competed against seven top-10 teams, including No. 1 West Virginia, No. 2 TCU, fifth-ranked Alaska Fairbanks, sixth-ranked Air Force, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 9 Ole Miss.
In the very first match of the season, an NCAA Test Match held at McAlister Field House, Brabston placed 20th in smallbore in a match that featured WVU, OSU, No. 15 NC State and 20th-ranked North Georgia. The next day, against the likes of No. 9 Ole Miss, 15th-ranked NC State and No. 8 Nebraska, Brabston placed 10th in smallbore and 14th in air rifle.
Having gone up against such stout competition all season will certainly have prepared Brabston for the level of competition he will see at the Junior Olympics. Included in this year's field are two shooters that competed for the Air Force Academy in the 2018 National Collegiate Men's and Women's Rifle Championships. Logan Ogden finished 13th overall in smallbore and 17th in air rifle while teammate Ian Peterson finished 21st in smallbore and 38th in air rifle while helping the Falcons finish fifth in the eight-team championship.
"I definitely don't think I will be as nervous because I have had matches against some of the best programs in the country this year and I've seen that I can hold my own against other shooters," Brabston said. "I won't necessarily beat them all, but I feel that I will be a lot more competitive than I was last year. I was still working on figuring it all out and getting used to the whole national type of match last year. Competing for The Citadel this year really helped me grow as a shooter."
The men's rifle portion of the 2018 Junior Olympics runs from Friday, April 6 through Thursday, April 12. The first day will be dedicated to equipment checks for air rifle where everything will be tested from the buttons on the suits, through the rifles and including anything a shooter uses to compete. Everything must be within certain guidelines set by the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF).
Once a shooter's equipment is approved, they sign up for practice times to get used to the range and shooting at a difference elevation.
The competition for air rifle, which features 204 male shooters this year, will include two rounds. Shooters are seeded based on their qualifying scores for the first round and everyone will then be seeded again for the second round based on the first-round scores. Following the second round, the top eight shooters with the best aggregate or combined scores from both days will move on to the finals and will compete for the title.
Once air rifle is over, the 72 smallbore contestants will have to go through the entire process again from equipment check, to practice and on into competition.
For more information on the National Junior Olympic program, please visit www.usashooting.org/7-events/jnosc