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Girl Power: Austin all-female, air-rifle team headed to regionals

(AUSTIN HIGH SCHOOL -- Jan. 21, 2022) — Austin High’s undefeated, all-female air rifle team earned a spot in the regional competition in Anniston, Ala., next month for their shot at competing in the national competition in March.

The four-member team is the only JROTC rifle team from El Paso to qualify for this championship. Coach Sgt. 1st Class Alfredo Cardenas (Ret) knows he’s hit the bullseye with this team.

“I’m extremely proud of this team,” he said. “They worked hard in the summer, even when it got hot. They don’t complain and then they put on their gear and it gets even hotter, but they’re always here practicing. And that’s why they’re so good, because they have a lot of trigger time.”

The team is dedicated to a 7 a.m. daily practice regime. They put on their gear and practice the three competition positions – standing, kneeling and prone – with precision, aiming for perfection.

“I’m really excited about going to regionals,” said Battalion Commander Eliana McFarlin. “I’ve never seen this much dedication from our team. It’s inspiring. We’re going to go out there and kick some butt.”

McFarlin finds the sport a form of decompression and recommends it to anyone interested in trying it.

“If you’re having a stressful day, you wake up and get here early and leave everything at the door,” the junior JROTC student said. “The sport teaches you to breathe. You have to be calm to do it.”

She hopes her experience on the team helps her realize her goal of earning a West Point Academy appointment and scholarship for marksmanship.

Teammate Corp. Alicia Alvarado, a sophomore, also sees how training on the elite air rifle team will help open doors for her in the future.

“I feel like this will help me with my future career path because I want to go into the military,” she said. “I don’t know what I want to do yet, but I’m looking to join the Marines.”

Corp. Ruby Guillen likes the challenge that marksmanship brings and enjoys the experience of being able to shoot an air rifle every morning.

“It’s taught me responsibility, having permission, focusing and how to maintain your balance in shooting and keeping your body balanced,” the sophomore said. “I’m really proud of our team. We’re a good team. All of our efforts at being here in the mornings are paying off. We’re going to make the best of it. We got this.”

All team members will return next year with the exception of Command Sgt. Maj. Samantha Castañeda, who graduates this year. The air rifle team intrigued her early in her JROTC career and with every competition she grew fonder of the sport.

“I really like competing in this,” she said. “It feels good that it’s all girls. We have girl power.”

Story by Reneé de Santos
Photos by Leonel Monroy