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Opportunity awaits for UK rifle team in coming weeks

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Connor Davis and three of his teammates will compete in the Bavarian Air Gun Championships Jan. 24-26 in Germany. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Connor Davis and three of his teammates will compete in the Bavarian Air Gun Championships Jan. 24-26 in Germany. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky rifle team has multiple enormous opportunities ahead of them in the next few weeks. The Wildcats will compete in two matches this weekend in Oxford, Miss., four of their athletes will compete in the Bavarian Air Gun Championships in Germany next weekend and they have a date with second-ranked West Virginia on February 2.

The only caveat is that those four Europe-bound shooters, four of the best shooters on the team, will miss this Sunday's match against Memphis.

Henri Junghanel will compete for his native Germany in the Bavarian Championships while Emily Holsopple, Connor Davis and Elijah Ellis will suit up for the United States.

It's a major honor to have four different shooters represent the University of Kentucky at the international level.

"It's great for the team," said Junghanel. "I've been on the international circuits for awhile now, but that's an awesome experience athletics-wise, but also generally. To be in Munich, it's a really interesting place, and it will be great for everybody."

It will be the first time Ellis will have competed internationally. In fact, it will be the first time he'll ever even have left the country. But for the other three shooters, they each have experience in that event. Even so, more competition at such a high level can only help down the road.

"That intensity level," said Davis. "In the international competition, a good score over there is a lot better than over here. If you're lower here, it's not as good over there. Just bringing that intensity from the international level home really helps."

Junghanel will not get to compete at all this weekend, missing both the Ole Miss and Memphis matches to head home early to train in Austria. The other three will leave immediately after their conference match with Ole Miss.

But the biggest opportunity for the UK rifle team will happen on the range in Oxford, Miss., when the Wildcats face Memphis without four of the best they have to offer.

"It's a great opportunity for them to embrace the opportunity of it's my time, and it's my time right now," said head coach Harry Mullins. "Now, for some of them to step into the team spotlight, that's what the basis of our program is for them to eventually move into that."

Whoever earns the right to fill those spots will have big shoes to fill. Junghanel leads the team in smallbore (588.9) and air rifle (593.0). Holsopple is second in the smallbore (584.9) while Davis is second in air rifle (591.3). But whoever ends up taking their place will have earned that opportunity.

"We don't want that to happen by default or attrition," said Mullins. "We want it to happen by hard work. I'm not looking for them to give me the scores that Henri, Connor and Emily give, but the effort that they bring every match."

While those four are off competing in Germany, their thoughts will still be with their Kentucky team back in the United States. However, they are all confident that those they leave behind can more than pick up the slack and earn a win without them this weekend.

"I have great faith in them that they will step up and perform very well," said Holsopple. "It's very important, but I think with the depth we have on our team that should be no problem."

When those four shooters get home, Kentucky will face the No. 2 team in the country and rival West Virginia. UK came out hot after the break and shot a 4,705 in its first competition back against Alaska-Fairbanks.

Kentucky will continue to look to improve on that opening score of the New Year this weekend, but that will especially be case when they face the Mountaineers at full strength. Though the Wildcats are looking to go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country, from here on out, they are focused on what they need to do each day to get better.

"I think there's still plenty of room for improvement," said Holsopple. "That 4,700 mark is a good mark, but we still have more than enough potential to exceed that and get to 4,720 and maybe even 4,730."

As the season wears on with aspirations of postseason success ahead, Kentucky is doing its best to focus on the task at hand every day. Whether it's practice, matches this weekend in Mississippi or an international meet in Germany. It's the only way the Cats will cash in on all the opportunities coming their way.

"There's still space for improvement, but it's important to know that's something we can build on," said Junghanel of their victory over Alaska-Fairbanks. "We don't have to be No. 1 right now. It's good, everything's fine as long as you're No. 1 in the end."

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