SVA & BC Riflery Teams reach GHSA Sectionals - Saint's Autumn Wolff Shoots at States!

By Nathan Domintz/Special to Prep Sports Report | March 21, 2024

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Autumn Wolff enjoys the focus and patience demanded in her sport, and it also helps that she’s rather quiet.

All of which makes the St. Vincent’s Academy junior a great fit for the riflery team. It’s a matter of sport imitating life.

“I think so, yeah,” Wolff said.

Wolff said she has a 3.7 grade-point average and has a 95 average for her current courses. Her favorite classes are “probably” art and history.

She’s also been a quick study at shooting an air rifle after joining the team as a novice in her freshman year.

“I actually was pretty successful the first time I even tried,” said Wolff, who then was asked for an explanation. “I honestly have no idea.”

Her grandfather has a pretty good idea. David Wolff, who just completed his first season as a community coach assisting the Saints team, related that Autumn was looking for a new sport after playing youth soccer.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you go in there and try that rifle thing out?’ ” said Wolff, who with his wife, Cecille, has raised Autumn. “She was pretty much saying, ‘I don’t know how to do that.’ I said, ‘Well, just go give it a shot. I think you’ll be good at it. You’re very patient. You’re very calm. I think you’re very steady.’ ”

He might have a sense for these things. Wolff is retired from his careers in the U.S. Army and with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“I was always pretty good with my own firearms in all my military and government service,” he said. “Nobody (in the family) was ever a marksman as far as rifle competitions and things like that. Autumn is the first in line.”

After proving to be the Saints’ top rookie as a freshman and improving each year, Autumn Wolff was team captain this season and the top shooter on the squad.

Her 293 out of 300 during the regular season qualified her for the GHSA riflery state championship’s individual play on March 16 at the Ware County Shooting Complex in Waycross. The event is coed, and public and private schools of all sizes are together in one competition.

The only representative of Chatham, Bryan and Effingham counties at state, Wolff tied for the 16th-best score out of 93 shooters in the three-position competition with a 578 out of 600.

She posted consecutive rounds of 99-99 for a 198 out of 200 in the prone, her strongest position. Wolff recorded 92-95 for 187 out of 200 in the standing position and shot 98-95 for 193 in kneeling.

“She’s very good and she’s motivated, too,” said Gary Ogden, the St. Vincent’s coach for 25 years. “That’s basically what it takes. If they’re motivated and they want to do better, they will.”

Ogden said that while teenagers “tend to drift from thing to thing,” some find their way to riflery and lock in, finding it works for them and builds confidence.

“For some of them, it’s what they can do well,” Ogden said. “You don’t have to be big. You don’t have to be strong. You don’t have to be fast. You just have to be able to put the concentration where it belongs, which is on that little, tiny black dot (on the target) 10 meters away.”

Wolff has the work ethic to go to the range and practice a lot, looking for anything that can be corrected, asking what she is doing wrong, her coach said.

“She’s not doing anything wrong, but we can refine things just a tiny bit,” Ogden said. “She wants to make that final, little bit of refinement to get her position right and get the shots off as perfectly as she can possibly do that. She enjoys it.”

It’s true, Autumn said, that she wants to go to practice and might feel it’s never enough.

“There’s not a lot of space to practice where we practice, so I try to get in as much as I can,” said Autumn, who attends one shooting camp each summer.

She also enjoys being part of a team and hanging out with her friends. Her role as team captain has her sharing advice with them.

“A lot of times, they ask me for pointers and I try to help them the best I can,” Wolff said. “I try to be supportive through matches as well.”

St. Vincent’s went 8-3 in the regular season, finishing fourth in Area 3 behind now back-to-back state champion Camden County (11-0) and another perennial power in Ware County (10-1) as well as Statesboro (9-2), which was led by eventual state individual champion Katlyn Sullivan.

Ogden noted the larger talent pools that public high schools such as Camden and Ware draw from while building a long history of excellence. The all-girl SVA has about 300 students, he said.

“As small as we are, we do very well,” he said. “We’ve been as a team six times to the state finals since 2008. For a little, tiny team, I think that’s pretty good.”

The Saints had 11 on the team this season, advancing to the sectionals where they lost in the first round to Upson-Lee of Thomaston by three points, 1,115 to 1,112.

“So very incredibly close,” Autumn said.

She led the team with an aggregate of 291 out of 300, with 98 in prone, 94 in standing and 99 in kneeling.

The top four individuals’ scores counted, with teammates Nicole Sapone (275), Samarra Mullis (275) and Isabella Keating (271) providing the other totals.

Keating and fellow senior Aryana Pfeifer will graduate, and Wolff will return with goals to get the team to the state championship round and for her to play even better.

“She’s a great kid,” David Wolff said. “I think she’s very well-rounded, gets good grades, does well in her sporting activities (including lacrosse), does a little bit of volunteer work on the side when she can, has a little part-time job on the side with the church. She’s looking forward to the next step, that being her senior year and applying to different colleges.”

Autumn would like to compete in the sport in college, with her first choice the U.S. Naval Academy and training to be a pilot.

Benedictine season recap

The Benedictine Cadets went 7-4 in the regular season to finish in fifth place in Area 3, with the losses to the teams ahead of them: Camden County, Ware County, Statesboro and St. Vincent’s.

“We had a good season,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Suhr, in his sixth season as head coach. “I think our match average was like 1,109. We had our highest score since I’ve been coaching. We scored a 1,129 against Brunswick at home.”

The Cadets got through the season with just six shooters but still qualified for the sectionals, where they lost in the first round to Chattahoochee County 1,125 to 1,096. It’s the second consecutive year Chattahoochee ousted them, including the second round of the 2023 sectionals.

“They’re a good team. We’ve shot just terribly against them each time,” Suhr said. “It’s been our worst score of the year pretty much. Unfortunately, that’s not going to get it done in the playoffs.”

Aidan Rachael (285), Fischer Landon (276), Law Babbitt (269) and Cooper Winters (266) scored for Benedictine.

Happier news was the team’s new electronic range system, thanks to the school and the Benedictine Athletic Association, Suhr said. The coach said the system has instantaneous scoring and is better for matches, practice and the fan experience.

Benedictine will graduate seniors Rachael and Babbitt, both four-year shooters. Suhr said experience is a huge factor in a sport in which concentration and following routines are so important.

“You’ve kind of got to get them as a freshman, maybe a sophomore at the latest, because it takes years to build up a skill set,” Suhr said.


Photo Credit - Benedictine social media pages and Magnolia Creation Photography

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