FAIRBANKS — Coach Dan Jordan is high on the Alaska Nanooks rifle team this season.
“I’ve got a young team, but it’s one of the most driven teams I’ve had in several years,” Jordan said as the Nanooks prepared for their home opener Saturday against the University of Texas El Paso.
“The skill level also is one of the highest,” Jordan said. “There’s a lot of depth, too.”
The Nanooks and Miners will compete at 8 a.m. Saturday in the E.F. Horton Range on the lower level of the Patty Center. The second and third relays start at 10:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. An air rifle final is scheduled for 4 p.m., followed by a “Guts Match” which is much more fan friendly and Jordan will serve as an announcer to make sure fans know what is going on.
Usually when a school visits the Nanooks they shoot two matches, but this year things were changed around a bit so the Nanooks could shoot their NCAA qualifying match at UTEP in February.
In order for the Nanooks to shoot at UTEP two days before the qualifier, the Miners could only shoot once in Fairbanks so they wouldn’t go over the NCAA match limit.
The Nanooks normally shoot their NCAA qualifying scores at home, but Jordan said he couldn’t find an opponent to make the trip north this year, so his troops will hit the road in an attempt to make the eight-team NCAA Tournament field.
The 2012-13 Nanooks roster features seven freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and lone senior Cole Bures.
“Sometimes I think I need a six- or eight-sided die to choose the starting team,” Jordan quipped, “That’s a good thing in a way.”
Jordan wasn’t necessarily happy with the Nanooks opening matches at Nebraska, where Alaska beat North Carolina State and lost in a tie-breaker to the host Cornhuskers.
“The first couple of matches we struggled with performing in a match situation,” Jordan said. “We’ve worked on that and we’re shooting very well right now, so I’m anxious to see what they do in this match on Saturday.”
Jordan also struggled to find the right combination of shooters at Nebraska.
“It happened in Nebraska both matches,” He said. “I didn’t pick team right in either.”
In addition to Bures, other Nanooks veterans are juniors Anna Hjelmevoll and Michael Liuzza and sophomores Ryan Anderson and Mats Eriksson.
Hjelmevoll is recovering from a shoulder injury.
“She’s starting to get back to normal,” Jordan said.
The freshman class includes a pair of Lathrop graduates in Lorelie Stanfield and Jaimie Barnes to go along with Soren Butler of Casselton, N.D., Dustin Chesebro of Laramie, Wyo., Alexis Hardone of Winchester, Mass., Keanu Paikai of Honolulu and Tim Sherry of Mountain Ranch, Colo.
“Soren and Tim are two of the best shooters on the team,” Jordan said. “Lorelie is coming up quickly and I expect her to be one of the top five or six on the team.”
Jordan feels the Nanooks can be in contention for another NCAA title when the championships roll around in March.
“If they can get to the point where they perform in a match the way they can in practice, we can be there with the top three,” Jordan said. “The normal three teams — West Virginia, Kentucky and TCU — are putting up some big numbers right now.
“It comes down to whoever peaks at the championships,” Jordan added. “Right now people aren’t expecting much from us, which is good because it gives us a chance to improve.”