FARMINGTON — Students in Piedra Vista High School's U.S. Army Junior ROTC program are celebrating after taking fourth place at a national marksmanship competition.

The team placed fourth out of 43 qualifying schools at the 2014 JROTC Service Championships. In the country, 1,600 schools offer the U.S. Army JROTC program, and 43 of those qualified for the national competition.

The Piedra Vista students competed at the Albuquerque location of the competition on Feb. 15 to 16, while other teams across the nation competed in Anniston, Ala., and Port Clinton, Ohio.

The Piedra Vista squad improved on their fifth-place performance at the event last year, said junior Shelby Wyckoff, captain of the marksmanship team.

Piedra Vista JROTC advanced marksmanship team members, from left, Belle Toney, Brodrick Conriff and Brandon Von-Ha get ready to demonstrate the shooting
Piedra Vista JROTC advanced marksmanship team members, from left, Belle Toney, Brodrick Conriff and Brandon Von-Ha get ready to demonstrate the shooting positions used in competition on Wednesday at Piedra Vista High School in Farmington. (Megan Farmer/ The Daily Times)

"I'm very pleased with our team," Wyckoff said. "We've come a long way."

In 2011, the team earned 18th place, and, the following year, it moved up five spots to 13th place.

The team competes in the sporter category, where students are assigned targets and fire their air rifles at them. Scores are based on the accuracy of the shots fired from the prone, kneeling and standing positions.

Piedra Vista earned a score of 4,267 points, just 65 points behind the first-place team, Lebanon High School from Lebanon, Ore.

Dave Naber, Piedra Vista senior JROTC instructor, said he believes the team's improvement stems from more cooperation among students this year.

"We had the best chemistry among the team members that I've ever seen since I've been coaching," Naber said. "They know they are not only shooting for their own individual score, but they are shooting for the team score. They support each other."

Junior Brandon Von-Ha was awarded the Civilian Marksmanship Program Junior Distinguished Marksmanship badge for demonstrating exceptional marksmanship in competitions. Von-Ha is the sixth person to be awarded the badge in San Juan County, and he is one of 680 people nationwide who have earned the award since 2002.

"I've accomplished my goals, and it feels pretty good," Von-Ha said. "My performance was pretty good throughout the years, and I've been shooting consistently."

Piedra Vista graduate Lawrence Benally and two graduates from Kirtland Central High School, Vladimir Govorkov and Shaquanna James, received the award last year.

With their recent win, the Piedra Vista marksmanship team earned a spot at this year's National JROTC Championship in Port Clinton, Ohio, later this month. But due to funding cuts from the U.S. Department of Defense, the team will be unable to attend, Naber said.

The next competition for the students will be the Civilian Marksmanship Program Western States Regional Championship in April in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.