The Kirtland Central and Piedra Vista high school teams took the top two places at the New Mexico State Marksmanship Championship in Albuquerque on April 12 and 13. Kirtland Central finished in first place and Piedra Vista in second. The state championship marked the final competition of the school year.
Piedra Vista senior JROTC instructor Dave Naber said that his team's performance impressed him.
"I was incredibly blessed. We set a new school record on (April 12), then on (April 13). We beat that," Naber said.
Both teams participated in the state competition and in the Civilian Marksmanship Program Western Regional Championship, which was also April 12 and 13.
The western regional championship brought together the best shooting teams from 13 western states to qualify for the national championship in Alabama in July.
The Kirtland Central team took first place in the western regional, and Piedra Vista followed in fourth place. Going into the national championship, Kirtland Central is ranked third in the nation and Piedra Vista is seventh.
Only 19 points separated the two teams' scores on a national level, with Kirtland Central scoring 4,306 points and Piedra Vista tallying up 4,287.
The team ranked first in the nation, Franklin County High School in Rocky Mount, Va., was only 20 points higher than Kirtland Central with 4,326 points.
As a result of winning the western regional, Kirtland was awarded $5,000 for its Midway Endowment Fund.
Kirtland Central JROTC Sgt. Major Craig Frost said the students have earned about $27,000 for the endowment fund. Award money from competitions throughout the year goes into the fund and accrues interest. Each school year, the team can withdraw 5 percent of the money from the fund to cover the cost of supplies and travel.
"I was very impress with what they were able to do," Frost said.
Individually, Kirtland Central senior Vladimir Govorkov placed first in the western regional and is ranked third in the nation. Piedra Vista sophomore Brandon Von-Ha placed third in the western regional, and he is the seventh ranked shooter in the nation.
Govorkov said it was exciting to take the top individual honors.
He attributed his success to adjusting to the electronic targets used during competitions. The team practices on paper targets, which use multiple bull's-eyes per sheet.
"I like how there is only one (bull's-eye), but I got so used to the paper targets," Govorkov said. "I wanted to go out with a bang and do my best."
Two students from Kirtland Central earned the Civilian Marksmanship Program's Distinguished Marksmanship Badge during the western regional.
Govorkov and senior Shaquanna James earned the award for demonstrating superior marksmanship in competitions.
"It feels great because I worked hard for it," James said. "It feels great knowing, even in a small town, you can do some much. ... It felt good."
Frost credits the success of his team to friendly competition with the Piedra Vista team.
"It's not unusual to have two teams in the state appear in the top 10 nationwide," Frost said. "What's highly unusual is two teams, 30 miles apart, being in the top 10 in the U.S."
On the Piedra Vista team, senior Lawrence Benally also received the Distinguished Marksmanship Badge during the national JROTC competition in February.
Benally said he's learned a lot from being on the air rifle team for four years.
"It has really taught a lot about aspects of life like patience, working with others and overcoming obstacles." Benally said. "I will miss (Naber), the team and shooting a lot. It's why I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to go to school."