2001-02 Season in Review

After two trips to the NCAA Championships in as many years, the Huskers began their quest for a third-consecutive berth in 2001-02 under the leadership of Coach Karen Anthony. With two returning All-Americans and three 2001 NCAA qualifiers, the Huskers had lofty goals for the new season.

Nebraska opened its season at the Nebraska Rifle and Pistol Range on Oct. 20 against Air Force. The Huskers defeated the Falcons, 6,138-6,022, with solid performances by Husker sophomore Melissa Downsbrough, who claimed the individual smallbore title firing a 1,160, and junior Amanda Trujillo who led all air rifle shooters with a 392 mark.

After nearly three weeks of rest, Nebraska went on the road to face Kentucky on Nov. 10. The Huskers matched the Wildcats in air rifle (1,545), but could not equal Kentucky’s smallbore score (4,668), falling 6,213-6,099. Trujillo again paced the Huskers, firing a season-high 1,168 with the .22 caliber rifle to finish third overall.

The Huskers competed in one of the biggest competitions of the year, the Walsh Invitational, on Nov. 20. Hosted by Xavier, the competition took place over three weekends and featured 15 college teams, including six colleges that had qualified for the NCAA Championships in 2001. The Huskers earned a fourth-place finish behind the steady hand of Trujillo, who fired a 390 to finish eighth among 165 competitors. Freshman Alicia Sawyer also stepped up for the Huskers, matching Trujillo’s 390, hitting 17 center shots for 10th place. The Huskers’ smallbore scores were not as high, although sophomore Karen Aspden fired a season-high 376 as an individual competitor.

The Huskers’ next competition, the Southwestern Invitational, pitted them against rifle powerhouse Alaska-Fairbanks on Jan. 11, in El Paso, Texas. The defending NCAA champion Nanooks defeated Nebraska, 6,215-6,130, but not without a solid effort from the Nebraska shooters. Alicia Sawyerled the Huskers in smallbore with a 1,168, bettering her career-high by 12 points, and coming in second only to Alaska-Fairbanks’ Matt Emmons, the 2001 NCAA smallbore champion. Trujillo fired a 1,165 to tie for third overall.

The following day, the Huskers were back at the range, this time in a shoulder-to-shoulder match with host UTEP. The Huskers rebounded from the previous day’s loss with a then-season-high score to down the Miners 6,166-6,103. The aggregate score ranked sixth nationally, and the smallbore score of 4,622 was fourth on Nebraska’s all-time charts.

Consistency was the key to Nebraska’s victory, as four shooters fired at least 380 in air rifle. Downsbrough, Trujillo and Sawyer each fired a 388, but Downsbrough was crowned the individual champion after winning the tiebreaker on center shots. For the second consecutive match, Sawyer led the Huskers in smallbore, winning the individual title with a score of 1,164. In all, Nebraska claimed the top three places in smallbore, as Downsbrough finished second with a 1,162 and Trujillo claimed third with a 1,156. Senior Rachel Spiry rounded out the Husker scoring with a season-high score of 1,140.

The Huskers traveled to Murray, Ky., the weekend of Jan. 27 to participate in the annual Roger Withrow Invite. Nebraska fired an aggregate score of 5,998 to finish sixth among 18 teams. The Huskers had a strong day in air rifle, finishing third overall, led by Downsbrough’s stellar performance. Downsbrough smashed her personal best with a career high of 396, which tied the Nebraska school record held by former first-team All-American Nicole Allaire. It was also a career day for Rachel Spiry, who tied her personal best in air rifle with a 389 to finish tied for sixth. Aspden competed with the team for the first time, recording a 372.

Nebraska was also in action against Austin Peay the next day. The Huskers competed only in air rifle, topping the Lady Govs 1,530-1,475. Veteran Terim Richards led the Huskers with a season-high 390, while Downsbrough fired a 385. Spiry shot a 381, followed by Aspden with a 374.

Nebraska took a week off before heading to Ohio to take on Ohio State on Feb. 10. The Huskers posted impressive numbers and season highs, defeating the Buckeyes 6,183-6,117. Trujillo and Downsbrough, both of whom fired scores of 1,165 in smallbore to tie for second, led the Huskers to a season-high total of 4,637. The 1,165 score was a season high for Downsbrough, marking the third time in 2001-02 she broke 1,160 with the .22 caliber rifle. Sawyer turned in another solid performance, passing the 1,160 mark for the third consecutive match with a 1,162, while Spiry boosted the Huskers’ score with a 1,145, a score nearly 13 points better than her season average.

Trujillo, the Huskers’ most consistent shooter, won the individual air rifle competition with a 392, followed by Downsbrough (387) and Sawyer (385).

The next day, the Huskers shot shoulder-to-shoulder with the Ohio State ROTC. Nebraska easily claimed the victory, 6,138-4,455.The Huskers held the top six spots in both smallbore and air rifle, led by Trujillo, who performed extremely well in smallbore, firing a season high of 1,169. Sawyer and Downsbrough fired 1,159 and 1,154, respectively, to round out the top three. Downsbrough bested all air rifle shooters with a score of 392, followed by Richards who fired a 385 competing as an individual.

The Huskers had accomplished several goals throughout the season, yet the biggest hurdle lie ahead in the NCAA Qualifier at Alaska-Fairbanks the weekend of Feb. 22-23. The schools that fired the top seven or eight rifle and smallbore scores at the various qualifying matches across the United States, in addition to individual qualifiers, would advance to the NCAA Championships.

Before the qualifier, the Huskers competed in a triangular with Alaska-Fairbanks and Murray State on Saturday. Nebraska finished third, tallying 6,122 points. Alaska-Fairbanks won easily with a 6,270, nearly 100 points better than Murray State (6,173). The Huskers struggled with smallbore, as Trujillo (1,162) and Sawyer (1,160) were the only Nebraska shooters to fire 1,135 or better. Downsbrough rebounded from a season-low 1,134 in air rifle to shoot a 389 in smallbore, a mark matched by Trujillo. In both competitions, the Huskers fired below their season averages.

The Huskers hoped to bounce back Sunday in their only chance to qualify for nationals. However, the Huskers shot a disappointing 4,601 in smallbore and 1,531 in air rifle, earning ninth and 12th place, respectively. Sawyer led the Husker shooters in smallbore, firing a 1,161, the fourth consecutive match in which she bettered 1,160. She shot a career-best 398 in prone, the fourth-best mark in Nebraska history. Trujillo shot a 1,155 followed by Downsbrough (1,149) and Spiry (1,136).

In air rifle, Downsbrough fired a 391, her best score in three matches. Trujillo, the 2001 NCAA Individual Air Rifle runner-up, fired a 388 followed by Richards (382) and Sawyer (370). While these performances were below the Huskers’ sharp-shooting capabilities, freshman Laura Johnson and Aspden turned in their best performances of the year, competing as individuals. Johnson shot a personal-best 1,119 in smallbore and Aspden fired season highs in both smallbore (1,124) and air rifle (377).

Despite Nebraska’s efforts, the Huskers’ team scores were not high enough to qualify for a third consecutive NCAA berth. It also marked the first time in three years that Nebraska did not have any individual qualifiers, after sending Nicole Allaire, Richards, and Trujillo to nationals in 2001.